A Travellerspoint blog

Coming Home

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard


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We have come full circle.

We are back in London this evening to see Agatha Christie’s, The Mousetrap, at the St. Martin’s Theatre in the West End. I recall approximately five weeks ago reaching into my bag as we were leaving for this trip and pulling out an Agatha Christie for the plane ride to London. Now, in a satisfying burst of literary symmetry, we are ending this journey with the same author with whom I started.

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I have asked my children frequently to reflect on what they have discovered on this trip. I expect them to have some sense of being mere specks in the world but this does not seem to occur. Instead, they talk about the negative way American’s are perceived overseas and their own efforts to present a different impression. They talk about the delight they get from observing human expression and humor in everything from the Rosetta stone to a door knocker in Venice. And they mention that teenagers in Europe, just like America, still check you out to see what you’re wearing. “Is it possible that people are the same everywhere?” they seem to be wondering. It is a good question.

For Analiese, this trip has solidified that there really is no place like home. She longs for her own bed and for easy access to friends and familiarity. For Langston, however, it has opened the door to other ways of life. I saw his internal wheels turning as we walked the streets of Europe and I would not be surprised to find us someday making cross Atlantic flights to visit our grandchildren. Time will tell.

As for Scott and me, we have simply loved being together as a family. Watching our children make new discoveries and grow in the ways that only travel can facilitate is a quiet thrill, and we have felt pride in both their courtesy and in their curiosity. We will not forget this time together.

Agatha turns out to be great fun and on our last night in London, we are pleased to be part of the 56 years of audience members who have agreed to never tell whodunit. We leave the theatre and join the throngs of patrons who are strolling the streets in search of after show refreshments. There are so many lights from the theatres that it almost feels like daytime, and we end up in a crowded restaurant where we are reminded afresh of why the English are not necessarily known for their cuisine. Afterwards, we leave this whirl of activity and descend down the stairs to the Piccadilly subway and catch the tube for our hotel. We are due at Heathrow tomorrow at 11:00am and we have bags to pack and schedules to figure out. We hop on the subway and listen to the swoosh of the doors as they close on our journey.

When will be back? I don't know for sure but someday...someday soon.

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Posted by Queen Anne 13:55 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Bierre-Les-Semur

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We cross the border into France this morning with both excitement and sadness. Scott leaves tomorrow from Paris while the rest of us will catch the Chunnel to London before flying back home. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends again, but we are all a little bit sad to see our journey draw to a close. It has been good for us on so many levels – our bodies are relaxed and our minds responsive and tuned to the present. It will be a difficult adjustment to return to the demands and flurry of everyday life.

Our pace this morning is leisurely and we take time to enjoy the fields of corn, the sheep on the hillside, and the views of gorgeous chateaus that dot the farmland along the highway. When our gas gauge gets close to empty, we pull off at a random exit where a sign points us to Bierre-lès-Semur. We fill the tank and then park the car to commence walking down the cobblestone lanes in search of lunch.

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We are delighted by what we find -- Bierre-Les-Semur is a tiny village that boasts a castle, a church, and what might be a small college. We choose a café with a swinging screen door that is filled with middle aged female bicyclist in shorts and helmets and we order crepes and croque monsieur and pitchers of wine.

Afterwards, we walk the streets and look in the stores. Butchers, bookstores, wine shops – it is a working town with a real estate office and we stop briefly and look at the offerings. What would it be like to move to this village? Smaller for sure and a simpler life, but it appears on the outside to have all the essential ingredients for contentment. We muse over this fantasy for a while. Langston is snapping more than his usual photos and I suspect he is equally enchanted by the fact that one can pull off the highway and stumble on something so exquisite. We talk about the possibility of returning someday with no agenda other than to drive the back roads of France and explore these small communities.

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It is time to return to the car -- we’re due in Paris in a couple of hours where we’ll turn in our car and get ready for our return to Seattle. On our way, I grab a brochure from the real estate office and tuck it in my purse. Who knows…?

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Posted by Queen Anne 06:38 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

From Genoa to Geneva

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After several days of relaxing in the Tuscan sun, we pack our bags and head north. Scott has to be in Paris on Thursday morning and we have far to go in the next few days. Our plan is to go at a leisurely pace, to stop often, and to see as much of the countryside as possible.

After a stop in Pisa, we head for Genoa, a gorgeous city on the Northern Coast of Italy. Scott has been before but it the first time for the rest of us, and we are in love. It is a sophisticated city with extraordinary food (pesto was invented here), and beautiful people walking the streets. Fashion is clearly a high priority and we spot some of the most elegant clothing of our entire journey.

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As we’re walking through the old town that evening, we stumble across the remains of the home of Christopher Columbus. It is telling that we have been travelling for a long time because, while we feel a small thrill at this unexpected discovery, we have come to take the extraordinary wealth of relics of civilization that exist in this part of the world for granted. We spend a few moments in homage to this explorer whose courage gave us our homeland, and then blithely continue our quest for good pesto which we find in a little restaurant down a dark alley. Langston declares it the best he’s ever had (and if you know anything about Langston, you will understand that this is very high praise.)

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The next morning, we enter the Alps, stopping at Mont Blanc where we feel the cool mountain air. Leaving Italy for Switzerland, we notice an instant shift in style – the tans are the types that come from mountaineering and we’re spotting wool socks and heavy shoes that speak more to comfort than style. Langston comments that it’s good to be home and he’s correct, there is something about being in the Alps that reminds us the Northwest. We breathe deeply and lay hopeful plans to come back soon and ski these gorgeous mountains.

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We spend the evening in Geneva. We have little time to explore the town but we do walk the lake and see the Jet D’Eau – the largest fountain in Europe . Analiese wants to walk to the edge but turns back when she realizes that the force of the air created by the fountain is blowing her dress above her head. As I’m in shorts, I give it a go but am dissuaded by the spray that fills the air and makes my shoes lose their grip on the slippery rocks. But the magnitude of the spray is compelling and we join the tourist who, since 1886, have sat in wonder and watched this magnificent display.

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Posted by Queen Anne 05:01 Archived in Switzerland Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Florence

"You may have the universe if I may have Italy." --Giuseppe Verdi

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All of us agree – we could happily live in Florence for the rest of our days.

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We hop off the train on our first day and walk through the Piazza. It is filled with tourists but unlike Venice, the crowds are easily absorbed and feel incidental to the mechanics of the city. Around us, people are scootering to their jobs, engaged in conversations over espresso, sketching in the alleyways. We are immediately attracted to its combination of industry and creativity and we dive in, anxious to experience all that we can in the few days we will have to visit.

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After a lunch of risotto and wine, we head to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is very warm outside and we walk gratefully through its cool interior. Periodically, a deep and commanding voice plays over the loudspeaker: “SHHHHH….SILENZIO, PER FAVORE. SILENCE….PLEASE. The tourists are shocked into quiet for about 8 seconds (“Was that God?” I heard a little girl ask) and then commence with their conversations again. I sit on the floor and study the fresco in the dome above me, trying to make sense of its esoteric message while enjoying the feeling of the cool marble beneath my body. Analiese eventually joins me and we gaze up together until we decide we’ve had enough.

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But not Scott and Lang who want to go to the top of the dome where you can see the city laid out from a bird’s eye point of view We divide for the afternoon with a quick plan to meet at the Accademia Gallery, at 4:30 or if all else fails, at the train at 7:00. Analiese and I walk through the town, stopping in stores to watch paper be marbled, admiring the gorgeous fashions in the windows, taking the occasional gelato break.

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We end up at the Accademia and wait in line for an hour to see The David. It is very warm but Analiese has an IPOD and I have a book and we take turns looking for Scott and Lang.

But they never come. I realize that I'm in Florence without any means of communication and I begin to grow a bit anxious. I do recall seeing an exhibit of Da Vinci’s designs and I wonder whether they may have gotten sidetracked, but I set the anxiety aside long enough to enter into the museum and to enjoy this opportunity to gaze on Michelangelo’s work.

Sitting under natural light in the center of the Accademia is The David. I had forgotten how imposing this work is and I am struck with that curious blend of humility and inspiration that stirs when I am in the presence of genius. Analiese and I walk round and round, sometimes leaving momentarily to look at other art, but always returning to cast another gaze. Finally we find a seat on a bench where we can rest for a few moments without the jostle of crowds. I find myself watching the faces of the people as they enter the room. Sometimes it’s pure joy, sometimes awe, sometimes just a shadow of a smile, but in almost every case, people stop their conversations and just stare. Even my daughter, who has grown weary of museums, is awestruck and I whisper to her the story of David and Goliath while we sit and watch.

In my determination to part ways with my childhood religion and to raise my children without this burden, I have somehow never had opportunity to tell them the stories of the Bible. It has been an interesting exercise for me, as we've visited museums with religious relics, to reach deep into my memory and to tell these legends that are so much a part of me. It's a bit like opening an old drawer and finding treasures you had forgotten you owned. You dust them off and realize that they're actually quite beautiful and you appreciate them, perhaps for the very first time.

Finally, it is time to leave and I walk out reluctantly, wondering if I will ever return. The evening has cooled and we spend our last half hour of this day in Florence in a pharmacy discussing mosquito repellants (Analiese looks like target practice) before making our way to the steps of the station. Much to my relief, Scott and Lang join us just a few minutes later with apologies and explanations. They finally made it to the top of the dome but were running late to meet us so walked the city instead, making their own discoveries. It is good to be together again and we head home on the train with plans to return in a few days.

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Posted by Queen Anne 00:35 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Venice

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DSCF7143.jpgAfter a fantastic breakfast of raspberry torte, black Italian coffee with warm milk, and bruschetta with freshly pressed olive oil, we take the train into Venice. Franco, our hostess tells us not to worry about how late we return and she shows us how to work the gate for their home.

For the first time, we are very, very hot and the crowds of Venice discourage us from exploring with our usual enthusiasm. We walk through the town, trying to catch the breezes off the water, and refilling our water bottles at every available source. The crowds visiting Venice are dense and our first struggle is simply to stay in sight of one another as we walk the streets and cross the bridges.

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I was excited to visit Venice but quickly I find myself looking forward to our departure. I have an unpleasant sense of being at a party that has gone on too long. Everywhere, there are weary Italians trying to sell us Venetian specialties and we are overcharged for everything from internet usage to water at our lunch. Someone comes up and tells me to take my backpack off as I am tempting the thieves and the songs sung by the gondoliers are Americanized versions of commercialized Italian lovesongs. We look listlessly into churches and museums and know that there is much more to see than we are discovering but the thickness of the tourists and the heat of the day make us long to find a quiet park in which to read away the afternoon. Like the carnival masks in the store windows, Venice feels as though it’s wearing a disguise designed for the benefit of the thousands of tourists that walk the streets. We wish we could see behind it, but we never spot a crack.

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We leave that evening via water taxi which drops us at the train station. It is jammed and smelly , and I end up holding Langston on my lap so he can take pictures out of the grimy window. For some reason, the train feels more real to us than all of Venice and we are delighted when the doors shut and we begin our ride back to Franco’s home. She and her nice husband are waiting up for us and it is lovely to return to their simple home and to look out over the valley behind it.

Posted by Queen Anne 14:28 Archived in Italy Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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