Tuesday, September 10, 2013

10 Places I've Seen Before I Died

[I review the movies "The English Teacher," "Oblivion," "How to Survive a Plague," "I Wish," Shirley Jones' memoir and comment on food and fashion.]
 
But first
 
 
 



This now classic travel guide calls us to exotic places and experiences, but as a retiree, it's unlikely I will get to Robert Louis Stevenson's home in Samoa or Namibia's Skeleton Coast or stay at The Ritz before I die (unless I win the lottery) -- but, I guess, you never know. 

However, I have been to Balzac's house in Paris, climbed the "The Old Man of Coniston" in the Lake District (England) and lived in an apartment in Venice.

With the exception of a cross country trip in the 1970's, my traveling life began in the mid-1980's.  I have been to England countless times, in most part because hubby's work took him there frequently.  I have also been to Europe many times, especially to Sweden, because my son studied there, and I have relatives there.

Since my humble blog cannot compete with the "1000 places" book, and I can't possibly recount all of the great travel experiences I have had while traveling without it also turning into a book, I have pulled out the ten places I have seen before I died -- the ones that were stand-out experiences and hopefully some of these might be experiences you would like to recreate for yourself.

So won't you join me
 as I share some of my own
"Places You Must See Before You Die?"


1.  Tallin, Estonia, from Stockholm by overnight ferry.

I was warned by a colleague not to go to Tallin on the weekend because that was where the Finns and the Swedes go to drink.  I guess it was a sign as we got off the subway and walked to the ferry that hordes of people were getting off the ferry that had just returned from Tallin, pulling pallets piled high with cases of beer -- and getting on the subway with them! 

You see, it is very expensive to drink in Sweden.  Not so much in Tallin, so it was a destination for Swedish folk, much like our going to Costco to stock up, I guess, except it involved a boat ride.

The overnight ferry to Tallin is actually a smaller version of a cruise ship, with all of the requisite amenities.


So we had a lovely stateroom with a view of the sea.  We spent some time up on deck enjoying the sunny day and an adult beverage, and then took our seats for dinner. 

After dinner, we headed to the main stage area where the Cruise Director was giving out information on the evening's entertainment. After discovering that not much was going on there except little children writhing around on the dance floor, we decided to explore more of the ship. It dawned on me that we were the only Americans on board. 

When we discovered a bar that was going to have karaoke, Hubby's ears perked up.  As an aspiring rock star, he is always up for a bit of karaoke.  I have fond memories of him back in the day blowing the audience away with his version of "You Put a Spell on Me."  So he signed up.

The show began with a matronly woman who appeared to be a regular.  Her specialty was Estonian folk songs.  We couldn't figure out why mushrooms appeared on the video behind her while she was singing.  Was she singing about mushrooms?

Then it was Hubby's turn. 

He sang Tom Jones' "You Can Keep Your Hat On," complete with gyrating hips and footwork.

He was followed by a couple of other locals. 

Then it was the folk song lady again.  More mushrooms on the video screen.  Must be an Estonian thing.

Then Hubby came on again and sang Roxy Music's "Love is a Drug."  Now the audience was growing and he was getting big applause.

Mushrooms.

Hubby

Mushrooms.

Then the Cruise Director came over to our table and asked Hubby to close the evening.  She was clearly impressed.  He closed the evening with the full version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."  You had to have been there.

As he was leaving the stage to full applause and whistles, I could see a woman approaching him and touching his arms.  Later Hubby told me she had asked him, "When will I see you again?  Will you be on the boat coming back?"

Hubby, in full rock star persona, said, "I can't.  I'm here with my wife," to which the poor woman replied, "No, no, no.  I just wanted to hear you sing again."

Later we were joined by a young Swedish man who was Hubby's first Swedish groupie.  He complained about the Mushroom Lady, who I guess is always on the boat and couldn't stop gushing about Hubby.  He also seemed to like the United States too, which was refreshing.

One thing about Sweden:  almost everyone speaks English.  I was astonished the first time I turned on the TV and Oprah was on without Swedish subtitles.  Hubby's theory is that there are 6,000,000 people in Sweden speaking Swedish, a language no one else speaks but them.  If they don't learn English, they won't have anyone else to talk to!

Tallin is a the oldest capital city in Northern Europe and has never been razed or pillaged.  It's a medieval town, but when you discover the disco across the street doesn't even open until 11am, you know it's a party town!  At our hotel, we had a disco on one side of us and strippers on the other!




2.  Paris

What can I say?  Paris is, well, Paris.  The whole City is an experience, but once you have done the museum and the usual sights, here are a couple of special experiences:

***Pont des Arts Bridge AKA "Lover's Bridge***
It's my understanding that this is becoming a phenomenon all over the world, but Paris is for lovers so this is THE place.  You bring your "Love Lock", you lock it to the bridge, kiss, and toss the keys into the Seine to symbolize your unbreakable love.  Awwww, I know.  But we have almost 30 years to celebrate.  Must be somethin' goin' on there.

 



If you forget to bring your lock with you, I noticed you could buy one right there on the bridge, which cheapened it a bit for me. 

So that my children and friends can find our lock, I specifically counted the poles on the bridge.  The lock is toward the center of the bridge around the 4th pole on the left as you walk toward the Left Bank. I wanted to be able to describe where it was so others can find it when they go to Paris. 

Think they will?





***Crepes***

The Rue de Rosiers in the Marais is a special street unto itself but is made even more special if you stop at the window where the fellow makes you a crepe while you wait. 



This last time I had a Nutella and banana.  Yum. 

While we were waiting, a young woman approached us.  She was not only American, but from Seattle, and had been living in Paris for several months.  She noticed Hubby's ever-present Mariner's cap (I know, I try to get him to stop wearing the damn thing, especially in Europe.  Gee, do you think people can tell we are Americans?).  Anyway, she was very sweet and just wanted someone to speak English with.  But in so doing, she also recommended a lovely restaurant called Chez Robert et Louise, which turned out to be a wonderful Parisian experience that we would not have otherwise had.  So don't underestimate those short but sweet interactions with those you encounter when you are traveling.




3.  Oxford, England by way of a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal

Who would think this would turn out to be one of our most wonderful vacations?



As the Anglophile that I am, I subscribe to a few magazines devoted to the UK.  I read an article about renting a canal boat in England.  I had also seen them in the canal in the town where we mostly stayed when Hubby was in England for business and the idea fascinated me.

We invited my Swedish cousin, Jane and her then boyfriend, Lars (they are now married), our daughter and my sister.  We all met in Oxford and headed out to secure out boat, "The Damselfly," which we had reserved months before.

When we arrived, we didn't realize we had to schlepp our bags over several boats to get to ours.  Did I really need one suitcase just for shoes?  I was beginning to question this whole idea.

When we were situated on the boat, which had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and everything we would need, we were given brief instructions and off we went.  Hubby took the wheel which was outside at the end of the long boat. 

 
When we arrived at the first lock, there was immediate confusion.  Do you think the guys had read the instruction book on the counter?  No!

Daughter and Lars at a lock


I read the instructions, relayed them to the guys at the lock and off we went again. 

And then the rain came.

Since the driver has to be outside all of the time, this was not a good thing. Thankfully, there was only one day with rain and Lars had a flask for the driver.

You can't travel more than about two miles per hour.  There are signs all along the canal about the speed, especially when you pass people who are tied up to the bank and living on the boats.  One time Hubby cranked it up to 4 miles per hour and a boat resident came out and shook his fist at us.  He was probably making a cuppa tea and we rocked his boat!



But slowing cruising through the English countryside is bliss.  And I mean slow.  This was our itinerary.

Day 1
8.4 miles to Thrupp.

Day 2
7.7 miles to Lower Heyford.

Day 3
13.5 miles to Oxford Aristotle Bridge.

Day 4
6.7 miles to Eynsham Lock.

Day 5
1.5 miles to the Boathouse.

Total 37.8 miles in four days!

At night, we would tie up at a village pub, have dinner, get to know the locals and then head back to the boat where we drank wine and played music. 

My older sister, Posy, enjoying some down time.

When it came time to turn around, once again Hubby had not paid attention to the instructions. 

What is it with men and instructions/directions?

We knew we could only turn around at a wide place in the canal specifically for that purpose (called a "winding hole," pronounced as in the wind that blows, not the top you wind), but as usual Hubby had not read the directions and went in the wrong way, thus flummoxing his attempts to turn around.  With some help from the locals, we made it out.

Did we bump into things?  Duh.

The boat had no brakes - the only way to turn was to increase the engine and turn the rudder.  When we were heading back into the Thames to return the boat, the rudder would not turn the boat because of the wind coming from the direction Hubby was trying to turn into. So we kept going straight - right into the tree!  The rest of us were all sitting in the front talking and laughing when all of a sudden I saw a tree looming ahead.  Boom.  Into the bank we went.  Comes with the territory.  The boats are fitted with metal sides for just such occurrences and amateurs like us.



The last night, we tied up just outside of town, no one was near and we blasted our music and had a wonderful time finishing off all of the booze and singing "Red, red wine" at the top of our lungs.

Our ages ranged from 20-70, from three different cultures (Sweden and East and West Coasts of the U.S.), close quarters for four days and nary a cross word.



4.  Smaland, Sweden

My mother's parents both immigrated from Sweden at the turn of the century.  Most Swedish immigrants came from there as the land was so rocky it couldn't be farmed and there was a great deal of poverty. 

My mother went back to meet the relatives that remained and that is when she met my cousin, Jane.  Jane's grandmother was my mother's first cousin. Jane was a teen when she met my mother and really wanted to come to America and she did!  She stayed with my parents for a time (I had moved to California by then) and then found work as an au pair. 

I knew about this connection but had not met Jane.  However, when my son wanted to study in Lund, Sweden, I wanted to connect with Jane so my son had someone to call upon if necessary.  My mother and father were gone by then so I took some chances with some emails - "Are you the Jane who...?" and found her.  We arranged to meet and the rest is history. 

Jane has connected us to all of the remaining relatives who have all been welcoming and kind. 



We have been there several times to visit, but the highlight is always visiting the family home, where my grandmother was born in 1880.  It's still in the family, outhouse and all (would be tremendously expensive to put in indoor plumbing because of that rocky soil I mentioned earlier).



I can't tell you the feeling to be in that house, to walk down the road, to breathe that air that my grandmother did as she decided to leave her family and go to America. What made her decide to go off to America all by herself?  I wish I knew the whole story.  I do know that Jenny, my grandmother, went back to Sweden to visit and tried to get her sister (Jane's great-grandmother) to come back with her to America but she was afraid or her father wouldn't let her.  How that would have changed things for my cousin Jane!

 
5.  Vienna

Though we toured "The Ring," the Hofburg Palace and The Opera House, what I remember most is the art nouveau architecture.  We did quite a thorough tour of the many art nouveau buildings that were a protest against the historical style.


 But the most fun was the "Toilet of Modern Art."  



I made use of the facilities.




6.  Lower Slaughter, the Cotswolds, England

 
Here is my very favorite English village. 


I have been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember and read a book called "Life in Lower Slaughter" by Robert G. Deindorfer.  It was written in 1975 and painted the most idyllic picture of life in the English countryside. I had to go there. 

The second time I accompanied my husband on one of his business trips to England, since I had to entertain myself while he was working and I was in England, for god's sake, I finally got up the nerve to drive a car and went in search of this village. 

There is a walk you can do from Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter, through a sheep pasture, over some stiles and then around again on a country road.  I was all alone and couldn't believe that here I was, in this bucolic setting all alone in England. 

I have gone back there several times, each time encountering more and more people taking that walk.  The last time we stayed there overnight in the Washbourne Court Hotel (now The Slaughters Country Inn) and after dinner walked out into the foggy evening.  I get goose bumps just writing this.  There we were.  We had the sleepy, quiet town all to ourselves. 

I could pretend for a moment I lived there.




7.  Venice

All I can say is...no, the canal does not stink, you can get away from the crowds and if you don't see Venice before it collapses into the sea, you will have missed one of the most magical cities in the world.

During one trip we stayed in an apartment with my son and his wife.  We were off the beaten track and could walk the narrow walled streets out to the little supermarket and feel like locals.  We were right across from a hospital so an ambulance would go by from time to time -- an ambulance boat, I might add.

Our View from our apartment.


A big thrill was having a drink at Harry's Bar. 



Though it's a bit of a tourist trap these days, I still felt in the presence of Hemingway and other expats who frequented the place and the staff was surprisingly friendly, which isn't often the case with famous places like this that have become meccas for tourists.  Like a tourist, I was craning my neck all around looking for celebrities, while trying to act and look like I was also one!

When we were there with our son and his wife, we sat near some young fellows who were drinking quite a bit and then all of a sudden there was a commotion and the bartender ran out.  Those fellows had run out without paying their bill. 

Must have been those prices!




8.  Prague

Here is another special City. 

 


One caveat: Some cabbies that pick you up at the train station are not honest.  So what happened?  Despite our knowing about this, we ended up in one of those.  When we arrived at the hotel, Hubby was enraged to find out how much the guy was charging us.  Our travel guru, Rick Steves, had offered that when this happens go into the hotel and report them.  Hubby did just that but the response in the hotel was "Welcome to Prague." Hubby was not amused. Needless to say, when we left, the hotel booked us an honest cab driver.

A highlight of Prague was the Jewish Cemetery. 


Twelve thousand headstones; 100,000 people buried in this small space.

I have a little work story about that.  When I worked as a research librarian, I was asked about the oldest grave in the cemetery.  A tourist had just been there but was not able to remember what that was.  This was pre-Internet days and searching through indexes and articles didn't help me.  However, I was able to find an email address for the gift shop at the cemetery.  I sent them an email saying "A librarian in the U.S. needs your help" and shortly after, I received a nice reply with the answer I needed.   The oldest grave belongs to the Prague rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara from 1439, just in case someone asks YOU that!




9.  Bruges, Belgium

This medieval city is a wonderful walking town.  Too bad it rained the entire time we were there! 



But we stayed in a gorgeous hotel - Grand Hotel Casselburgh (highly recommended) for a good price especially compared to what our hotels were like in Paris and London, for the same price.



We had fun interacting with the young bartender who wanted to open a Belgian Beer Bar in San Diego!  You know how I feel about young, er, good bartenders!



And then there was the Frites Museum!  According to them, our fries should be called Belgian Fries, not French Fries!

 
For a tour of Bruges while watching a really good film get In Bruges.
 
 




10.  Victoria, B.C.

Closer to home is one of my favorite cities. 

In fact, when we were contemplating our move from California to the Northwest, it was between Portland and Seattle and I voted for Seattle so we could be closer to Canada.

Now that we have been to Victoria many times and done the tourist things such as Butchart Gardens and tea at the Empress, I now have my routine.

We get to the hotel, walk around the Inner Harbor and then I head for Murchies to get my tea (they have the best tea ever and you can order online) and then over to Munro's Books, one of the last great independent book stores which was recently featured in "16 Bookstories You Have to See Before You Die."  (Do you sense a theme going on there?).  I am always looking for biographies and autobiographies of lesser known British actors that are rarely available in the U.S.

In the evening we have a drink in the Bengal Lounge, a recreation of England's Colonial era in the Empress Hotel



and stroll back to the hotel admiring the lights around Parliament.



In the morning we walk over to the best Starbucks in the world in Cook Street Village, where we can hobnob with the locals and pretend we are one of them.





Oh, I forgot to warn you.

"This list goes to 11.  It's one longer."



11.  Iceland

From Seattle, one of the less expensive ways to get to Europe is via Iceland on Icelandic Air.  And it comes with a stopover in Iceland in either direction where you can stay for as long as you like for no added expense.  So we availed ourselves of this one year. 

Iceland is like being on another planet



But it's such an interesting culture.  There are Icelanders who can read the Viking language because it is so close to Icelandic. 

Since there are no trees, the buildings are mostly tin imported from Norway. 



We rented an apartment and had a wonderful time, the highlight being swimming in the Blue Lagoon, a natural hot spring in the middle of a lava field. 

If you go, just know they want to make your stay easy.  They will pick you up at your hotel or apartment to transport you to some outdoor adventure and cater it with fine dining.  It's an outdoorsman's paradise.

I remember joking to Hubby, wondering if the Blue Lagoon had a swim-up bar. 
 
Guess what?





I have had so many wonderful travel experiences, it wasn't easy to choose which to share. 

But those are some special places I've seen before I died and now I need to work on those other 990!



If you had to pick your all-time favorite travel experiences, what would they be?



 
 


Rosy the Reviewer's
Week in Review



Films
 



 
Really liked this film especially seeing Julianne Moore in a lighter role.  This also stars Nathan Lane who always makes me laugh.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...an enjoyable comedy with dramatic overtones that didn't get a lot of attention when it came out.  Worth a look.
 
Oblivion (2013)





 
 

Had no idea what was going on here. But keep your eye on Andrea Riseborough.  She starred in "Shadow Dancer," which I recently reviewed. 
 
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...Oblivion is where this film belongs. 
Sorry, Tommy.  I have always loved you but couldn't get my head around this one. 
 
 
 
 
 



 
Touted as one of the best documentaries of 2012, this history of the AIDS crisis reminds us of the stigma involved with this disease when it first came to light, a stigma so intense that hospitals were turning people away and no one was working to find the proper drugs to treat the disease.  But through activism things changed.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...a case of the patient curing himself.  But we must not get complacent.  AIDS is still out there.  An important film.
 
 
 
I Wish (2012)
 
 



I wanted to like this film as I am a sucker for adorable children, especially highly animated, joyous kids.  In this Japanese film (and yes, subtitles), two little brothers who have been separated by divorce believe that if they make a wish at just the point that two bullet trains pass each other, their wish will come true.
So they and their friends make the trip.

Rosy the Reviewer says...slight premise and overlong but the child actors were delightful.





Food

If someone can give me recipe that actually turns out well in a slow cooker I would be amazed.  So far everything I have made in a slow cooker has been tasteless and/or mushy.  The only reason I can think of to use something that takes 7-8 hours to cook is to have your food ready when you get home from work.  But if the food tastes bad, what's the point?  You might as well cook for an hour when you get home.

Rosy the Reviewer asks...is being retired and using a slow cooker an oxymoron?



 
 
Fashion

Remember last week, I told you that a big trend for fall is "bedazzled black? " 

Well, aren't these hot?


Am wearing them to Hubby's and his partner's big rock & roll gig this weekend!

Rosy the Reviewer says...no comments.  I am wearin' 'em. 
Now I need to start practicing my twerking!




Fun

---Reading



"Shirley Jones: A Memoir"

 
And what a memoir it is.  Mrs. Partridge, we hardly knew ye!
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like celebrity autobiographies that dish the dirt, here it is right here.  Delicious!




---Stair walking...

Am starting to question why this falls into the "fun" category. 

On this last walk of 90 minutes, 2.6 miles and 588 steps down and 477 steps up, it occurred to me as I dragged my butt up step number 450 that it was surprising we were not more like Pavlov's dogs. 

Shouldn't we have an aversion to getting up and getting in the car to head to a stair walk when we know how much it is going to hurt? 

Gulp!



And yet we continue to do it. 

Must be the "No pain, no gain" principle.  

But if it has to hurt, then I like the pay off - the gorgeous views and the sense of accomplishment.

As we head down some stairs, we catch a glimpse of someone's deck.

Can you believe someone actually gets to live with that view?

 


Well, that's it for this week. 

See you next week when I plan to do an appreciation of Lifetime Movies. 
 
Or not.



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