Saturday, October 31, 2015

Italy Slightly Off the Tourist Track

Sightseeing in Europe comprises a variety of experiences touring churches, old buildings large and small, churches, castles and palaces, churches, museums, churches, viewing picturesque landscapes, churches, and gift shops.

Every place has a gift shop situated at the end of the tour. You must pass by and usually through the shop to exit.

We spent hours walking and saw additional sites not normally pointed out by tour guides. A few of the hidden gems discovered are pictured below.

Electricity is very expensive. Hanging wash out to dry is one way to save money and conserve resources.

This glass blower works in a factory on the Venetian island of Murano. It is hard to see from my picture, but he is fashioning a horse. Murano has been a center of glassmaking for centuries. Another interesting comment about this photo is it illustrates that not all Italians are slim (only most of them).

Artwork is everywhere. These pieces are part of a display in the middle of a vineyard.

Laundry and brightly colored houses. many old homes - old as in hundreds of years old - are not painted, but some towns excel in brightening their environment. These houses are on the Venetian island of Burano, originally a fishing village. legend goes that the men would return drunk after weeks at sea and often enter the wrong house - and wrong bed. The women got fed up with their wandering spouses and came up with the idea of painting their houses different colors so the men could recognize their own home. Truth? Fiction? Who knows...

An almost universal sight - rain, traffic, and too many trucks. 
We are in a van on our way to Verona. We were supposed to see the picturesque, scenic, beautiful (so we were told) Lake Garda, but rain and fog forced a change of itinerary to Plan B. We drove through wine country and up a windy road (in the rain and fog) to a restaurant on top of a mountain and enjoyed a gourmet feast. Luckily we were oblivious to the dangers of driving down the mountain on wet roads, thanks to the wine.

Relieving oneself turned out to be an adventure at times.
More on this subject in my next post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Old Friends and New Ones Together in Florence

It is exciting to be in the middle of one of the iconic places on earth, a city studied in school, read about in history books, seen in pictures and movies.
Florence, Italy is one of those magical places characterized by huge old buildings, cobblestone streets and sidewalks, a river and numerous stone bridges, narrow alleyways, and lots of people. The city is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and the home of artists and artworks for centuries.

But traveling is more than architecture and landscape. It is also about people.  Meet some of my new acquaintances and traveling companions.

Meet Pinocchio, the puppet who became a real boy. The author of this well known children's story, Carlos Collodi, was born in Florence.

My three traveling companions performing a favorite activity of most travelers. Street vendors sell selfie sticks on every corner.

Visiting museums and viewing art is an essential part of the Florence experience. Everyone sees the front view of statues in person or pictures, but many statues offer a 360 experience. One of my favorite views...

We met Leonardo on the street. He did not say much.

Street musicians enhance the travel experience in Florence and surrounding towns.

This meerkat was spotted in Siena, about 40 miles from Florence. These animals are found throughout the city. Eventually they will be rounded up and recycled.

What exhausted travelers do at the end of a long day sightseeing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Arrivederci USA, Ciao Italy!

On the road again, this time across the pond all the way to Italy. Traveling with three girlfriends, leaving four hubs home, we rendezvoused at a wine bar in the international terminal at Philadelphia airport. Sipping wine and enjoying a hearty lunch in anticipation of a lousy airline dinner (we were not disappointed), our Eatily adventure officially began.

our plane almost ready to go at the airport.

Over eight hours is a long time to sit in one place, but the good news is we did not fly Spirit Air, renowned for tight seat configurations and seats that do not recline. I tried sleeping, managing only a few minutes between bouts of restlessness, standing to stretch my legs, checking the monitor to see how much flight time remained, and squirming around in a futile attempt to get comfortable.

The plane ride mercifully ended. Shielding tired eyes from the bright morning sun, we boarded a bus to the terminal and a few minutes later meandered through zigzagging lanes towards the customs window, officers more interested in conversation amongst themselves than reviewing our documents. 

We collected our luggage following a quick detour to the ladies room. I should have taken a picture. Large and pristine clean, each sink contained a shelf with three built in dispensers - one for soap, one for water, and the third air to dry our hands.

We boarded a van on our way to Florence. Passing the entrance to the train station I spied a worker diligently shampooing the concrete floor with a high-powered machine. When has anyone seen a human clean the floor of an American train station?

Following a quick stop for espresso, much needed to keep sleep-deprived travelers awake, the van sped on to Orvieto, a picturesque medieval village perched atop a mountain, nowadays a tourist town. Walking ancient cobblestone streets, hard on the feet, passing restored buildings accommodating restaurants, cafes, and numerous gift shops, we finally arrived at the location for our first Italian meal. Devouring a shared cheese and meat tray, salad, fresh bread, potatoes, two kinds of pasta, wine, espresso, and aperitif, it was a good thing we were not driving.

Espresso, a couple of swallows. After my first cup decided to order lattes. You get a full cup.

Revived, on to Florence. Dinner, almost a repeat of lunch, including high quality food and reasonable prices, included wine, sparkling water, caprese salad, bread, two kinds of pasta, and dessert. The waitress carefully explained in detail the ingredients in every dish, how it was prepared and cooked. We stumbled, exhausted, back to our hotel and fell into bed, getting ready for another busy day eating, touring, and eating.

I cannot keep eating this way. I will balloon and by the end of the trip will not fit into my jeans.

A four hour walking tour highlighted our first full day in Italy. We ate lunch at a trattoria recommended by our guide, ordering the prix fix menu for 15 euros (one euro = $1.101 on 9/23/15) which included a first course of pasta with pesto sauce and main course of chicken with tomatoes and olives. Exhausted by evening, we decided on an informal dinner, purchasing cheese, bread, cold cuts, tomatoes, artichokes, peppers stuffed with tuna, and cheese at market and feasting on our hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the city, sparkling with the white lights of homes and illuminated buildings.

Our market fresh dinner.

Eatily so far, a wonderful sensory, calorie-laden, adventurous experience.

And my next post will be about more than the food!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Best of Boomers on Journeys, New Family Members, and a Sober Warning about Insecticides

This week I am excited to introduce a new member of our group, Retired English Teacher. Her introductory post ponders her writing life since retirement. Meet Sally and read about a retired English teacher’s creative journey in Thoughts on Blogging in Retirement.

I spent this week packing for a trip, an exercise repeated innumerable times over the years. Yet it never gets easier. I gather stuff and pile them up, concede everything will not fit in my suitcase, take things out and place in a ‘maybe’ mound. Examining the pile, I realize the clothes have been in the suitcase before – often. Should I buy new clothes? Then I read Tom Sightings’ blog post and felt better…

Tom Sightings reflects on fashion -- well, if you can call it that -- on his latest post Dressed for the Occasion

And speaking of journeys and traveling…

Linda Myers, Thoughts From a Bag Lady in Waiting, recently spent six days with five other bloggers “writing and talking and eating and laughing.” And exploring lovely Vashon Island in Washington state. Read about her walk and check out the beautiful pictures at flip flops walk.

Laura Lee remained home this week, but did not lack for excitement. There's big news over at Laura Lee's new home! A new family member! 

On a more somber subject, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, writes on her blog The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide about a study that shows children’s exposure to household insecticides is linked to higher risks of childhood leukemia and lymphoma, the most common cancers in children. The analysis also found an association between use of outdoor herbicides on lawns and gardens and higher risks of leukemia.

Check out our bloggers, leave a comment, have a great week and enjoy the beautiful fall weather. It will not last long – Vermont experienced its first snowfall this weekend!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expecting the Unexpected When Traveling

We hit the jackpot last weekend traveling to New England, specifically Vermont, in a years-long quest to witness fall colors at their peak. Hub and I have been visiting the state since our son started college at the University of Vermont in the 1990s.

Vermont is a beautiful state, renowned for summer hiking, biking and mountain greenery, winter skiing and other cold-weather sports, spring mud, and fall color. Several times over the years we hoped to view nature in all her autumn beauty. Usually disappointment followed.

* There was the year of drought. Dull and drab best describes that season’s colors.

* One year we made it north immediately following a major storm. Wet leaves created a soggy mess.

* Another time, showing up in late October, the scene encompassed brown leaves and barren trees, but we experienced the season’s first snowfall. Of course we had not properly prepared, winter gear remaining in the closet at home hundreds of miles away.

Hub and I from time to time experience disappointment during our travels.

A family trip to Hawaii years ago included a cruise around the islands, an anticipated highlight observing a volcano erupting at night and the lava flow in all its raging glory. Except the week we visited the volcano suddenly fell asleep. No eruptions, no lava, nothing visible in the night sky. (The volcano woke up a week later.)

Then there was a trip to Switzerland. I looked forward to walking through Europe’s largest covered bridge, a 558-foot span built in 1333 across the river Reuss in Lucerne. However in 1993 a fire destroyed much of the bridge. Rebuilt in 1994, I was lucky enough to visit in the eight-month period between destruction and reconstruction. No bridge to view or stroll across.

We hoped to introduce friends to a favorite restaurant in San Francisco last month. Following a day of walking and touring, tired, hungry and battling sore feet, we looked forward to comfortable chairs and a late lunch. Approaching the restaurant we once again faced disappointment, discovering the place closed for a private party.

Sometimes I wonder if spending a lot of time and effort to see a site is worth it. One year, traveling with another couple, the guys wanted to view the Tour de France. We drove through the French countryside for hours. Stopping on a bridge overlooking the race route – along with dozens of other spectators - we saw the men zoom by in one massive group, the peloton. They were down the road, then speeding under the bridge, and gone. In seconds.

When traveling a dose of flexibility ought to be thrown in the suitcase. Predicting that things may not go exactly as planned, expecting the unexpected, the surprises, the ups and downs, annoyances and OMG moments make fascinating experiences and memories great, not so good, possibly bad, sometimes disappointing, but always interesting.

I would like to view a volcano in action one day… 
If you have not read the latest Best of Boomer Blog posts, check it out
We welcome a new member to our group this week.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

On the road again: The New York Thruway

I cannot remember my first time on the New York Thruway, a straight shot from New York City north to Albany, then a left to Buffalo, 496 miles. We did not drive the entire way (thank goodness!) exiting south of Albany. I was a passenger in either my parents' or grandparents' car and probably five or six years old. My grandparents bought a bungalow in the Catskill Mountains in the early 1950s and my sister and I spent summers there for years.

Grandpa drove to Long Island from his mountain retreat our last day of school and Janice and I joined him on the drive back. Mom and Dad visited a couple of times over the summer and retrieved us a day or two before school started in September.

I attended college in Troy NY. The two roads north from our house were the Thruway and the Taconic Parkway, a windy road. Whether driven by parents,  friends or bus, the route of choice was the Thruway. 

Traffic is the first Thruway memory that comes to mind. New Yorkers fled city and suburbs summer weekends, winter weekends, fall and spring weekends and holidays. Whether going north or south, traffic was a common frustration. 

One time in bumper to bumper traffic the driver behind us lost patience and, refusing to stop, hit us. Not a lot of damage and no one hurt, but it was frightening and delayed our arrival at grandma and grandpa's.

Large gaps in occasions to travel north occurred following marriage and kids. Then second son decided to attend college in Vermont. And never left. (Vermont, he did leave college.)

Once again I found myself on the NY road. Sometimes in beautiful weather, occasionally in snow, too often landing in traffic driving south when tired and looking forward to home.  

It is a long trip from our house in south Jersey to Burlington Vermont. Getting around and north of NYC is always the high point (actually low point a more accurate description), a challenge attempting to avoid traffic, construction, accidents and whatever else the metro area decides to throw our way.
Once on the Thruway the landscape improves. Trees replace buildings and endless expanses of concrete and pavement.

It is mid October, leaf peeping time. More color meets the eye the further north we venture.

We were told to pack jackets, gloves and hats. Supposed to be cold Saturday. 

Now it is raining. We are in the midst of a Friday afternoon, three-day weekend, escape to New England traffic jam. I would describe the trees in all their fall glory, but rain and fog obscure my view. Maybe construction is the cause of our creeping, although my guess is workers abandoned the site when the rain began.

We never stop at the first service plaza passed, Sloatsburg, too big and too crowded. The further north we drive, the less crowds encountered. We just hope our bladders hold out...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Family Legacies

People leave all kinds of things to their descendants. Money, possessions, genes, quirky behaviors. We never know which of our phobias (should we have any) will become imbedded in the bodies of our offspring. We hope for the best, pray the worst will pass through without sticking, and wonder what magical mixture of genes from Mom, Dad, and previous generations will mesh into a unique human being.

We – hub and I - somehow raised two great kids. I am sure luck played a part in it, but some credit must go to the parents (us!).

There are those smart, thoughtful, deep-thinking individuals who write letters detailing what they hope their legacy will be, what they hope their kids learned from them, how they hope their kids will act, what kind of human beings they want them to be. They discuss positive attributes they hope the kids display throughout life, like kindness, a sense of humor, respect for others, hard work, maybe a love of animals…the list goes on.

Rarely do they mention the not-so-positive traits passed down.

Like greed or stinginess or dishonesty or self-centeredness.

Or laziness. defines laziness as:
1. averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent.
2. causing idleness or indolence:
3. slow-moving; sluggish:

Not very positive, uplifting, or desirous.

Unfortunately human beings do not possess only positive traits. All of us are a mixture of the good and the not-so-good.

Somehow the laziness gene seized my body, refusing to move along.

I am not sure how it happened. My parents did not possess the gene, and I doubt my hard-working American and immigrant grandparents exhibited laziness.

It may have remained latent, silent, for generations amongst the twisted DNA of my ancestors, waiting for the right time to pounce, announce itself and take possession of a body.


My boys may have inherited it, but I doubt it. They are hard-working young men. The grandkids, well, that might be another story. The gene may have skipped a generation. Ask the kids to clean up and the response is, “But they’re not my toys…I did not make the mess…I don’t want to...” or simply, “No.”

My hub’s negative trait, yet unknown whether or not it passed on to a future generation, is, for lack of a more scientific term, the “I can’t find it” gene.

I ask, “Can you please take the milk out of the fridge?”

He opens the refrigerator door, scans the contents, then says, “I don’t see any. I guess we’re out.”

At which point I walk over and grab the milk, prominently positioned in the middle of the top shelf, nothing in front of the large container blocking the view.

Admittedly this is not a debilitating trait, just sometimes an annoying one.

Legacies. The good, the not-so-good, and sometimes the annoying. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shorely the Best?

Our beach during calm weather.
Our town advertises life in this shore community as Shorely the Best. Beach living offers a wonderful lifestyle, but comes with a unique set of problems. It is delightful to walk down to the beach, stroll on the boardwalk any day of the year and breathe ocean air. Visitors marvel how well they sleep when here. The salt air magically lulls one to la-la land, allowing a long and peaceful night. Hub has become an expert on snoozing anytime of the day or night.

On the other hand storms and electricity blackouts are just two issues residents confront. Superstorm Sandy was not a positive life experience. The days involved evacuation, uncertainty about the condition of our home, relief that our house remained standing followed by weeks of floodwater-related repairs.

Then there was the storm named Irene. We lost electricity, then our microwave/convection oven died due to a power surge. In between and since is the insecurity of wondering whenever the weather forecasts an approaching storm what might happen. Will there be flooding? How bad will it be? Should I do laundry so if we evacuate we will have clean clothes to pack?

Hordes of Northerners flee full time or at least during the bitter cold winter months to warmer climes such as Florida. Hub and I have travelled to Florida ever since the kids were toddlers. My grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt and uncle, hub’s aunt and uncle all migrated south beginning in the early 1970s. Most recently our son and his family made Florida their home. Fun to visit, we are not interested in relocating to the Sunshine State.

Returning from the hot, humid Florida weather earlier this week we faced the possibility of another storm ravaging our area. Ominous reports of high winds, flooding, torrential rains and a hurricane dominated weather reports and special news alerts.

We stored the outside furniture, planters and other odds and ends in the garage and installed storm doors. Another positive aspect of coastal living, the weather forcing us to do what might otherwise not get done. There is a good chance outdoor stuff might remain outside throughout the gray winter months if storms did not compel us to act.

We ventured out to the grocery store and purchased the equivalent of a bread and milk snowstorm alert, in our case water, eggs and ice cream (a dietary necessity in cases of emotional turmoil caused by weather-related anxiety).

So what do we do now?

Long term, I mean. Do we stay, hoping to avoid severe weather damage for years? I doubt bad weather will skip our place until we decide to sell years from now. On the other hand maybe we experienced the worst for decades to come. Horrendous storms hit this area in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, and now in the 20teens. Maybe we are clear for another twenty or thirty years…

But I doubt it.

So where do we go from here?

Water has been discovered on Mars. Maybe we will colonize the planet soon, and hub and I can join the migration. That is one possibility, but I am sure we would not make it home every year for Thanksgiving dinner or any other event.

Maybe the top of a mountain, or at least a high hill.

Anybody have any good ideas? 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Above the Clouds

I am above the clouds returning home following five days babysitting our three Florida grandkids and their beloved but aging golden retriever.

The days proceeded speedily. Well, not really. Each day did not seem to pass quickly while in the midst of kids and constant activity, but now that I am sitting, relatively comfortable on a plane flying home, time whizzed by.

Watching the kids is one of those experiences that drags on and on during the actual experience, but when over in retrospect was not long at all. Sort of like almost getting a root canal but the dentist decides the tooth cannot be saved and you end up getting a tooth pulled, my experience a couple of days before leaving for the great Floridian grandsitting escapade.

The best part of the past weeks round of goings-on?

Before revealing, let me explain. Flying Spirit, the low-cost airline out of our conveniently located airport just 20 minutes from the house, is an exercise in a variety of emotions - frustration, docile acceptance, resignation, sometimes anger, occasionally muscle spasms, aches and pains, and the hope that maybe sleep will make the trip tolerable.

Spirit seats are snug (I am being diplomatic) with constricted legroom. Everything a tight squeeze with every seat occupied.

Except this homeward bound plane. Almost full, but...hub and I waited patiently to board. Assigned zone four seating, meaning we did not pay extra for seats or anything else and therefore get shunted to the back of the line, we eventually walked onto the plane and located our seats. One seat in our row remained empty. We held our breath as the last few passengers in line behind us found their places. An empty seat on a Spirit plane is almost unheard of, a guiltless pleasure and wonderful treat if next to you...

OK, finally, the highpoint of our trip.

See the picture below?
An empty Spirit seat. Next to me! Life is good.

An empty Spirit airlines seat, about as rare as free food on airlines nowadays.

Hub and I spread out to enjoy the vacant seat between us. Not that I do not like hub's company or rubbing shoulders with hub and whoever happens to occupy the seat on my other side - I always get the middle - but a little breathing space is nice.

So, in the Spirit of flying high, we are happy campers.

It doesn't take much to satisfy two weary grandparents. A tall, cold drink, alcoholic even better, and a seat with space to spread our wings.

We will be home soon, looking forward to a day of rest and breathing cool fresh air following the hot, hot, hot barely breathable Florida sunshine. Driving the kids around town, cleaning up pee and poop on the family room and kitchen floor (the dog's), functioning as a short order cook, foregoing exercise because the weather makes me lethargic and draggy and the kids make me just plain tired...

Sitting here quietly above the clouds, I know I will miss the kids. Until next visit.