24 Years of Postcards from the Road

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My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary.  By anyone’s standards, 24 years is a good chunk of change.  It’s been two decades of perpetual motion, so it’s no wonder that I find myself reflecting on it this week in a blog named “Travels and Tomes.”

For all of the enthusiasm I have for the next few decades together, and all of the certainty that they will involve “settling down” soon, I look back over our past adventures and our many homes and travels  and I think what a long, strange, and utterly remarkable trip it’s been.

Here’s the two cent version of that trip.

CONNECTICUT:  This predates the 24–it’s where we met in school.  Spring and autumn in New England were glorious; winter was long but happily punctuated by sledding on cafeteria trays. We hung out in coffee houses, bought cheap theater tickets at the Rep, frequented the Brew and View pub in the next town, and made the occasional trip via commuter train into NYC (where we splurged for a Broadway show once or twice, but usually used our pocket change to visit the Met Museum or Museum of Modern Art, or stroll Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas).  We drove out to Cape Cod. It was a great start, tinged with a little wanderlust.

Our next stop was CHICAGO.  These were our salad and frozen pizza days.  We lived in three different apartments over 3 years and each one smacked of “Barefoot in the Park” in its own way.  (Great play, and great movie with Redford and Fonda, if you haven’t seen it.)  The first was at a fine address in the Gold Coast, but it was, literally, a closet.  Literally.  It was a temporary do.

The second was a coach house over a garage in the DePaul area.  Charming.  Until winter came, and we realized that there was no insulation. . . anywhere.  Not in the walls, not in the roofing, and not under the floor.  Cranking the heat did nothing but fill the apartment with gas fumes and heat the air in the middle of the room (as in, three feet up from the floor, three feet down from the ceiling, and three feet in from the walls).  So when the owners raised rent, we went packing for warmer (and cheaper) digs.

Which we found in our third apartment, just north of Wrigley Field (home to the Chicago Cubs).  We had a scant view of the top of Wrigley Field in the distance from our South-facing window, and an up close and personal view of a transient hotel across the street in our front windows…where we also had one bullet hole.  During our stay, no more bullets flew, but our neighbors at the hotel regularly pulled their fire alarms at 3 a.m. (followed by a brigade of firetrucks), and on the rare occasion took firefighting into their own hands and threw flaming matresses out their windows.  It was like having a front row seat at the theater each night.

In the winter this last apartment kept us warm, although ice crystals would obscure our view out the windows.  In the summer, we would broil and spend our evenings walking through the grocery store and opening the doors on the freezer aisle, postponing the inevitable return home.  Weekends found us wandering the boroughs of the city, eating in cafes and people watching–cheap entertainment, but always a good time. Each weekend, we’d walk a different neighborhood: German, Lebanese, Czech/Slovak, etc.  We had no idea this would be good practice for the life of travels that was to come.

DC:  A fast turn around — we lived there one year.  Loved the city, hated the traffic.  Great food, lots of culture, but far too much talk of politics.  Some weekends, we’d storm the city for ethnic markets and museums, other weekends, we’d escape to places like Chesapeake, the Shenandoah river, or the Chincoteague shore–sand dunes, ocean tides, and wild horses. . . paradise.

TEXAS:  Our Texas roundup: tumblwd

  • Steak–never liked it until I lived here.  A revelation.
  • Tex-Mex– again, no one does it like Texas.
  • Tumbleweed and Mesquite– lots and lots of tumbleweed and mesquite.

Our time in Texas wasn’t marked by a wanderlust or cultural broadening–it was more of “going deep” into a down home experience of that region.  It was different, but it was delightful.  And we left town with a secret recipe for salsa from our restaurateur friends Ted and Lena– a priceless gift.

TURKEY:  Culture shock after moving from west Texas to the mediterranean coast of Turkey, but absolute love after that.  If you’ve ever wanted to time travel, rural Turkey is the closest you’ll come.  Hop on a mountain bike and take off through the fields of sheep and shepherds, or explore ruins of ancient cities on the coastline with only goats for company, and you’ll know what I mean.  And the people of Turkey are the most hospitable people I have ever met.

In lots of ways, Turkey is where life “got real” for us. We hit incredible highs; we hit incredible lows. This is one way living abroad differs from simple travel–you’re not just there to see the sights, you are getting on with the business of living a life. goreme  In Turkey, we saw amazing sights:  the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia and homes hollowed out of these natural structures; old frescoed cave churches, in disrepair, but still dotting the landscape in remarkable numbers.  We also endured some tough times: a miscarriage and a strong earthquake that crippled much of the surrounding town and tumbled houses in the older section of the city (which was very old indeed), leaving people homeless.  But life cycles back to joy, always:  our daughter was born in our final six months there, and our family began its travels together.  Have dog, have kid, will travel–that’s been our motto ever since.

Turkey: the memories are less fuzzy than the photos.
Turkey: the memories are less fuzzy than the photos.

NORTH CAROLINA:  Our return to my home state for 5 years didn’t involve a lot of travel, except to see grandparents in a nearby town.  No, these were the days of total immersion in young parenthood.  Puppies and children–we were dripping with them.  Our daughter was six months old when we returned to NC, and our son was born a couple of years later.  Both of our children were born at lightening speed.  (I did make it to the hospital for my second, but didn’t make it into the hospital gown before he was born. I remember nurses RUNNING me down the hall on a gurney, shouting “don’t push, don’t push!”–but there comes a point when you really have no choice. . . just trust me on this one, men.)   And so my husband insisted there would be no third child unless I was willing to move into the hospital at 8 months pregnant. He had no intention of delivering a baby on our kitchen floor.    He had a point.  No more babies.  But we did adopt our sweet puppy Bebe in NC, and she was my furry baby for 15 years. PicMonkey NC

But, as I said, few travels of the suitcase variety.  Loads of adventures in pumpkin patches and parks, on sleds and tricycles, etc.  That’s how it goes with toddlers.

ENGLAND:

Oh, England.  I love this place.  For me, it combines new and exciting travels with the comfort of a culture that you understand intimately.  It’s also the setting for so many childhood memories for my kids:  dress up at the knights

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Ripon Cathedral, view from the river.

school at Alnwick Castle (also home to many scenes from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey), being pulled onstage during theater productions of The Tempest and Robin Hood Tales,  winning a contest for decorating the Queen’s Knickers (on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday), visiting with Santa at the local brewery . . . the list is too long.  Every day that we walked into the market square of Ripon (pretty much every day!) was a treat for us.  It was home, but it never seemed mundane.

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As a home base, Yorkshire, England was a great jumping off point for Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy.  We traveled by plane, we traveled by train, we traveled by car.  We traveled.  I had no blog then, so instead of posting travel notes and quips, I did send postcards from the road.  That seems a little quaint and slow now, but there’s something solid and permanent about the postcard, isn’t there?  It doesn’t say much, but it’s a tangible artifact of your travels . . .and it has the magical ability to fall out of a scrapbook decades from now and catch you by surprise with a flood of memories of a place and a time, of a holiday greatly enjoyed.  I wonder if blogsites will age as well?

We’re traveling back to England very soon, and to some of our old stomping grounds in Yorkshire.  It will be an absolute delight to walk the streets of Ripon, eat the scones of Ripon (!), and wander the dales of the surrounding countryside . . .but I think that it will be a little bittersweet too.  We all have a soft spot for our old life there.

From England, we found ourselves venturing on to GEORGIA and ALABAMA.  These states are next door neighbors, each with its own personality–please don’t take offense that I am lumping them together, but the truth is that this post is getting long-winded, so I’m picking up the pace.  Do you know what struck me most dramatically about the South in our first weeks back?  Tree frogs and cicadas!  The sounds from the trees, especially at dusk each night, is fantastic.  For me, it’s the sound of summertime and my childhood in North Carolina.  About the time when you’d be out playing kick the can with the kids in the neighborhood, or with cousins at your grandmother’s house, the trees would come alive.  You get used to the sound, you take it for granted, but once you’ve gone without for years, you really hear it again and it’s like a symphony.  Give me a screened porch, a cold drink, a hot day, and tree frogs at dusk, and I am a happy girl.

And now we are wrapping up our sojourn in GERMANY.   Time has flown way too quickly.  There is no sense in listing out our recent travels here–you’ve seen many of them posted in this blogspace, and it will take me the next year or more to continue catching you up on the places, people, language struggles, and food (and how!), but I’ll do my best.

If these posts won’t have that magical ability to slip, pop, or leap out from a scrapbook at me in my dotage, reminding me of continents I traveled and tales I told, they do have another astonishing talent–sharing my thoughts and travels far and wide with friends I rarely see, and even some new friends I’ve never met.  It’s like telling tales around a campfire that is surrounded with so many people–some out on the dark edges, beyond the glow, beyond my ability to know who is even out there.

This is the place where any self-respecting postcard would say “Wish You Were Here!” but it feels to me like you are.

Thanks for reading, and, if it’s not too much to ask, how about raising a glass for my husband and me– to another 24 years of adventures, big and small.

Cheers!

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Christmas in Salzburg and Villa Trapp, Part Two

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Our holiday visit to Salzburg was fantastic, but it began with a few grumbles.  No snow?  We wanted flurries and the full picturesque Christmas package, but no snow was in the forecast.  In fact, it was nearly balmy by Alpine standards in December.  (It turns out, however, that “Alpine balmy” is plenty cold as the sun drops low, so we quickly stopped complaining and huddled over our steamy mugs of mulled wine!)

I’ll give you the quick tour of our Salzburg shenanigans here, complete with photos.

We live near the French-German border, and Salzburg is nestled just into the Austrian side of the German-Austrian border.  This makes for a long drive, but we were up for it.  We left early, so we’d have a full half day as we rolled into Austria.

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Hellbrunn Palace

As we rolled in, we made our first stop at Hellbrunn Palace–right on the edge of Salzburg.  In 2014, we’d visited Helbrunn in late November, just as Christmas Market stalls were being built for the upcoming holidays.  It about killed us to see all of the preparations but miss the festivities themselves, so our first order of business was to remedy that injustice.  And Hellbrunn did not disappoint!

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Hellbrunn Palace Christmas Market

Hellbrunn offered a charming market and a petting zoo/nativity area for children, all set in the fantastic gardens of the Palace.  I’ll post a couple of photos here, but say little more about this, as I’ve already written a post about Hellbrunn’s market (here).

After eating and drinking our way through Hellbrunn, we headed to Villa Trapp to check in and have a quick rest–we needed a little energy before heading out for an evening in Salzburg.

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The moon and Mozart watch over ice skaters.

The main attraction for us, especially that first evening in Salzburg, was the Christkindlmart (the Christ-child Market, or sometimes called the Weihnachtsmarkt–Christmas Market).  There were a number of spots in the city where you could cruise through markets–Mirabell Gardens (which we did the next day), around the Dom (cathedral), and Mozartplatz (where there was ice skating).

Market stalls, gluhwein mugs, and star-lit streets
Market stalls, gluhwein mugs, and star-lit streets

DSC_0283The markets were charming in the moonlight, with Christmas lights twinkling overhead and warmth, light, and wonderful smells tumbling out of each stall.  We enjoyed Gluhwein (warm mulled wine), sausages, Weihnachts Schmarr’n  in many varieties  (with nuts, apple, gingerbread, etc, this is like big bread or pancake chunks cut up and fried with sugar), sugar and apple pretzels, and white Russians in steamy mugs.

At some point, we wandered into the Sternbrau Brewery and Beergarden for a cozy dinner.  Everyone went to bed happy.

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Horses and carriages, empty of riders in the early morning.

The next morning, we picked up breakfast on  the run and headed for town, with our sights set on the Hohensalzburg Fortress, sat high atop the hill over the city.  But to get to the top, you have to start from the bottom.  At the foot of the hill, we wandered through a town just starting to come to life for the day.  My nephew stuck his head around a corner, only to find that he’d stumbled on the entrance to St. Peter’s Cemetery– a familiar sight to anyone who has watched The Sound of Music. (Although I think  that scene must have been largely reproduced on a soundstage, it is clear that this is the location represented in the film.)   The cemetery is beautiful–set in the churchyard, with its back up against the stone hills of Salzburg. And those stone hills hold their own surprises. There is a doorway in the hills, to the back of the cemetery, which leads into the catacombs.

St. Peters Cemetery
St. Peters Cemetery

DSC_0326The catacombs are hand-hewn, carved into the rock of those hills.  For a small fee, you can tour the catacombs–a short but lovely tour, it’s worth the fee.  There are small chapel spaces cut into the rock, as well as windows and overlook perches, where you have a nice view of the church and cemetery.   After we had finished up with the catacombs, we started the climb toward the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

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Let me say, for the record, that the fortress is fantastic and the views are not to be missed.  Within the fortress, you can wander the walls and interior courtyard, visit the fortress museum, and enjoy the Marionette

View from Hohensalzburg
View from Hohensalzburg

Museum there.  It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

Still, for me, the greater treat of the afternoon was Nonnberg Abbey, which is tucked around the bend of the hill just below the fortress.  We knew the Abbey was there, but had been told that it’s  not open to enter, so the best we could hope for was to peek into the gates.  (Those famous gates from The Sound of Music— Nonnberg is the Abbey where Maria was a novice.)

Gates at Nonnberg Abbey.
Gates at Nonnberg Abbey.

Imagine our delight when we found the gates to Nonnberg open, and we were able to wander in.  The chapel (which is the actual location where the von Trapps were married) is stunning and still small enough to feel intimate.  The courtyard and garden  cemetery tucked just inside the walls of the Abbey were serene.  It was a great place to linger for a moment above the bustle of the town.

 

Nonnberg Abbey--sign, beautiful chapel, and graveyard. I love the light rays spilling over the Abbey wall and onto this grave--I think someone is trying to send us a Merry Christmas message.
Nonnberg Abbey–sign, beautiful chapel, and graveyard. I love the light rays spilling over the Abbey wall and onto this grave–I think someone is trying to send us a Merry Christmas message.

DSC_0419After visiting Nonnberg and the Hohensalzburg, we headed back down into town and eventually found ourselves at the Sacher Cafe– world famous for its Sacher Torte.   We ordered a myriad of desserts and nibbled off of each plate.  The cakes were brilliant and the coffee was outstanding.  We had no luck getting a table in the restaurant for lunch (reservations needed, at least during Christmas week), but I’m so glad that we made our way back for dessert.  In a city of fantastic food, this cafe ranks among the best of the best.

Honestly, I don’t remember what happened after our afternoon nibbles.  I expect we toddled back to Villa Trapp for a moment’s rest before hitting an evening of Christmas markets again.

The chapel where Stille Nacht /Silent Night was written--commemorated in sugar.
The chapel where Stille Nacht /Silent Night was written–commemorated in sugar.

Another night to wander the markets under the stars.  We spent a lot of time doing that, in various locations, during the Christmas season.  But it never got old.  Salzburg’s market offered so many tasty delights, and so much “eye candy”-old-world-decoration that it was impossible not to be enrapt by it all.  My favorite shop window on our last night in Salzburg was a confectionery shop that boasted a sugary replica of the Oberndorf Chapel, just outside of Salzburg.  This is the chapel where the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” was written.

After an evening of wandering, ogling Christmas baubles, eating, and drinking, it was once again off to Villa Trapp for a long winter’s nap.

We woke slowly Christmas Eve morning, some of us taking breakfast in the von Trapp’s dining room, and then set out (our bags packed for home) to visit Mondsee before the long ride back to the Rhineland-Pfalz in Germany.  Mondsee’s cathedral is probably best known as the wedding chapel in The Sound of Music, and it’s a stunner. It was a treat to see it decked out for Christmas.  And, as always, it was a treat to stop by Cafe Braun before leaving town and eat breakfast and some of the best apple strudel to be found on the planet.  (I ordered the strudel with both ice cream and cream–I don’t know if they make these out of an egg custard recipe or with some liqueur I can’t quite pin down, but they are incredible.)

We left for home with tired feet, full bellies, and a storehouse of  wonderful Christmas memories.  Next year I may be celebrating Christmas far from Salzburg, but I feel certain that Salzburg will be there in spirit– I’ll perfect my strudel and custard recipes, I’ll drink my mulled wine in a Salzburg gluhwein mug, and I’ll carry a certain old world spirit.  Like Hemingway’s Paris, Salzburg in this season will be my moveable feast.

 

 

 

The Old Man and the Sea

July 2015,  Prague, Czech Republic

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This is one of those moments that gets under your skin, one of those moments that you wonder about long after the moment has passed.

We woke up early one day in Prague–planning to walk the town, and especially the Charles Bridge area, before the rest of the tourists woke up and the crowds gathered.  It was a good plan.  Prague is a fantastic city, but the summertime throng of tourists (added to the 100 degree heat of this particular week) is oppressive.  DSC_0085

So we started early, in order to have views like this:

We very nearly had the bridge and the streets to ourselves.  We meandered, took photos, and drank coffee.

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The sky was hazy in an early-morning way, and, while our spirits were high, our brains were just peeking out of their foggy morning stupors too.  We were in a quiet, subdued sort of morning state when we turned to make our way back over the Vltava River.

We walked slowly, sipping our coffee, and looked up to see this:

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A beautiful view of the Charles Bridge, with our rower in the mid ground.

I snapped a photo and sipped more coffee.  As I walked along, I kept a lookout over my left shoulder to watch the rower’s progress.

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Once he was close to me, I realized that this was a very elderly man, rowing his solitary boat down the long river ever so slowly.  He was dressed for more than that slight chill of the morning, in a heavy jacket and old camouflage pants, and he sat with his back to his travel bag and crutch in a rustic wooden boat.

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Where was he going, this elderly man who walked with a crutch and a heavy bag?  Was he rowing across town because it was easier than walking?  Was he making a longer journey, across towns or across borders, with just his arms and the current to propel him?  This man was a story that I’d never have the chance to read to its end–and that made me a little sad.  But I quietly cheered him on as he passed– he was the old man and the sea, full of determination and greatness, bowing neither to age nor circumstance.

When you look at a map of the Czech Republic, you will see a land locked country.  I used to see the same.  No more.  To me, the old man and the sea will always be an integral part of the city of Prague.