Travel

Staying in Focus: A First Glimpse of Copenhagen

Well, we have returned from broadening our horizons, this year, in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Germany. We had a wonderful time, and learned a lot about the history and culture of the people living there, sampled their cultural cuisines and visited the capitals of each country, as well as taking excursions out into the countryside.

This trip further convinced me of my findings on previous visits to  England, France, Ireland and Scotland and that is that although they may celebrate different holidays, have different customs and political systems, different architectural styles in their buildings, homes and apartment and different languages, people are just people wherever you go. They are busy with their careers and families, they look forward to the weekends, with plans to shop, go to a park, launch their sailboat or go to an amusement park like the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. This is where our adventure began, on the good cruise ship, the ms Eurodam. IMG_5994

But before we can board the cruise ship, we have to fly the not so friendly skies, in an airplane. We are, of course flying coach. I love how they make you walk past the first class seats where the flight attendants are tucking the people in and singing lullabies to them. Next, we trundle past business class, where they at least acknowledge that people have legs and finally into coach, or economy class, where we are packed together like a roll of peppermints.

My first question is, how many more seats can you pack into an airplane and still leave your customers the ability to walk off the plane at the end of the voyage? And my second question is, why have seats that recline if doing so puts the person sitting behind you squashed for 8 hours between your reclined seatback and his upright one?

This happens to my husband a few minutes into the flight. Sleeping Beauty, and I use that term lightly, must have downed a handful of valium or something prior to boarding the plane.  Just as my husband is handed his dinner tray, she flips her seatback into total recline, pushing his dinner into his lap, and there she remains for the remainder of the flight, sound asleep. My husband is about 6 feet tall, and I see the panic in his eyes at the thought of being squished in like that for 7 hours. So we manage to trade places, so he can at least feel a measure of freedom by sitting on the aisle.

The time slowly passes and we finally hobble out of plane. We arrive in the baggage claim section just as I hear my name called out.  It is the Holland America representative, and after some totally confused and contradicting instructions, we find ourselves on a bus, with our baggage stowed beneath us, the recipients of a free tour of Copenhagen (thank you, Holland America), to keep us busy until it was time to board ship. So here is our first glimpse of Copenhagen. IMG_4887IMG_4842IMG_4870

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Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap: Why I Love to Travel

Daily Prompt: What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?

It is impossible for me to pick just one favorite destination. There are so many places in this world I want to see. The travel bug bit me while growing up. My family always enjoyed exploring new places. My dad owned a small plastics manufacturing business in Butler, NJ, and the only way he could get away from it all was to pack up the Ford station wagon for two weeks every July and hit the open road, wife and kids in tow. We covered all the lower 48 states, much of Canada, and Mexico.

My father and I dreamed of going to Alaska, but we ran out of time, as one by one we kids grew up, married and moved on. My husband and I did some travelling with our boys, mostly exploring the southern US, when we moved to North Carolina in 1987.

Then, in 2012, our friends Denise and Geoff asked us if we would be interested in a cruise to Alaska. Thanks to them, my dream came true. It was more beautiful than I dreamed it would be.  Snow topped mountains, aquamarine water,IMG_8563 eagles, seals, dolphins and whales.( I have an interest in humpback whales, having adopted one, named Ivory, many years ago.)  I never dreamed I would see them up close, but we did on one of the cruise ship’s shore excursions.

I was most anxious to see Alaska for two reasons. Having been diagnosed in 2007 with Parkinson’s disease, I have no idea how much time I have before the disease gets the upper hand and impacts my walking ability, balance and agility. And second, given the predicted impacts from global warming, Alaska, as we know it today, may one day disappear as its great glaciers steadily recede.  Alaska speaks to me through its mountains and forests. To watch the eagles soar overhead, to see the majestic whales surface from the deep-sea waters, to watch the sunrise paint the ocean gold,  these are memories I will carry with me all my life.IMG_8549

Having enjoyed our visit to Alaska, we planned a second cruise, this time around the British Isles, in 2013. Both my husband and I had dreamed of doing this, and so we visited England, Ireland, northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Guernsey and spent a whirlwind day in Paris, France.I fell in love with the United Kingdom. The history of the place is embedded in the very walls of medieval castles and stone cathedrals, in the buildings of London – Parliament, Buckingham PalaceIMG_2038 - Copy and the Tower of London . We traveled past pastoral scenery,IMG_1186 - Copy sheep grazing on hillsides, small villages and breathtaking coastlines.

It is hard to express why, but there is more of a sense of permanence there, of cultures steeped in custom and tradition. It is the home of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austin, the Brontes, William Wordsworth, Monty Python and the Beatles. We visited Loch Ness, StonehengeIMG_2226, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We toured the Beatles museum in Liverpool, and the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Sometimes I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t all a dream.993608_10201236706172446_1531835495_n

The trouble with travel is that it is addictive. The more I travel, the more I want to travel.

Next on my dream list would be the Scandinavian countries, and Germany where my ancestors originated, and the Mediterranean, Italy and Greece, maybe even New Zealand and Australia.

I believe that travel opens our minds, encourages us to meet and understand people of different cultures, challenges our preconceptions and broadens our perspective as we realize we are all much the same –  just people living out our lives, striving to make our dreams a reality.

I believe that somewhere out there, there is a cruise ship

IMG_1375 waiting for me to board, a jet airplane waiting to whisk me off to somewhere other than here. Who knows what the future holds? Maybe we’ll find a little cottage in a quiet village somewhere and never come back.

After all,a girl can dream, can’t she? 😉

Staying in Focus: I Remember London

Our Walking Tour of London

 

 

Green Park

Green Park

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Bill and I waiting to chat with the queen

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The ever-present double-deck red buses

 

 

 

 

 

 

alternative transport for busy London streets

crazy roundabouts

people gather outside pubs after work

LONDON HAS MANY INTERESTING PUBS

LONDON HAS MANY INTERESTING PUBS

Winged Victory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t believe it has been a year since our cruise and our stay in London. Sometimes I can hardly believe we were there. But then I’ll remember that park, a little green park we wandered through on our way to Buckingham Palace. It was a Friday – early evening, the sun still high in the sky. People are sitting on blankets taking advantage of the sun and pleasant weather while the children run and play tag among the greenery. Others hurl Frisbees to one another, or practice their moves with a soccer ball. This could easily be a scene in any American city, but for some reason it is the first thing I visualize when I think of London.

Perhaps it is because it demonstrates how much more we are alike as people than different. How all we really want is to live our lives in peace, enjoy a simple Friday evening in a pleasant spot beneath the trees with family and friends.

I remember London

A warm day in July

The double-decker buses

And the crazy roundabouts

we find a pub

and I order fish and chips

Bill orders a Big Ben Burger

we also find a bookstore

I buy a book of sonnets

by the Bard…

 

we pass a park of green

where people relax

sitting on blankets

enjoying the sun

tossing Frisbees

and practicing moves

with soccer balls…

 

outside Buckingham Palace

people sit around the statue

of Winged Victory

awaiting the announcement

of a royal baby’s birth

tomorrow we’ll do the touristy

things, but for today

we enjoy our walking tour

of  London on a summer

evening in July

(pc 2014)

Staying in Focus:Daily Prompt: Good Time

 Daily Prompt:Imagine that tomorrow, all of your duties and obligations evaporate for the day. You get the day all to yourself, to do anything you please. What types of fun activities would make your day?

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/daily-prompt-good-time/

a path of gold from the sun to me You have to see this place!

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I awaken just before sunrise, after a good night’s sleep free of the crazy, Technicolor dreams induced by my medications. I get out of bed, quietly tiptoe across the room, and peek out between the drapes. The sun has just cleared the horizon and the beautiful hues of pink and orange sunrise dance across the waters toward my feet. As I take pictures of the beautiful scene, I enjoy total silence – no one would believe thousands of people surround me. As the sunrises, it reveals mountains covered with snow, their lofty peaks shrouded in mists. Small icebergs float by, jewels of aquamarine. Slightly ahead and off to the right, I am treated to the breaching of a humpback whale.

The day that has just begun will be filled with amazing scenery, more whale watching, maybe exploring a coastal town, say Juneau  or Sitka, followed by a delicious dinner, an evening’s entertainment, maybe some trivia in one of lounges. The sun is unwilling to set in this Land of the Midnight Sun and we are reluctant to stop for the day because this is an imaginary day and tomorrow reality returns.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie Groundhog Day, when Bill Murray, trapped in time and made to repeat Groundhog Day again and again recalls a far better day in his past life and says,  “… that was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I have that day to live over and over…”

I try, on special days like these, to be present, in the moment, but as hard as I try, the day slips away, leaving only memories. I look at the pictures I have taken on such special days, and think to myself, was I really there?  Why didn’t I pay more attention? But I can close my eye and remember all the beautiful places I’ve seen and one of the most beautiful is Alaska. As I hold to the adage, “Think Big!” I could think of nothing bigger or more  beautiful, than spending my imaginary day in Alaska.  The following is  a poem I wrote following my visit to Alaska in 2012.

This one is a sestina.  It has 6 verses and each sentence of each verse must end in one of six words.  I chose; Alaska, glaciers, aquamarine, paradise, mountains, whales.  In each verse these words move around according to a preset form.  It ends with a tercet (3 lines) and in each of those lines are two of the six words. It is a form of poetry that uses repetition.

And Did I Mention the Water is Aquamarine?

a pristine wilderness, wild and untamed,  a place called Alaska

a land of bears and  bald eagles;  graced with icy glaciers

and did I mention the water is aquamarine?

our ship slowly starts passage into the fjord, a slim slice of paradise

we pass the silent sentinels,  the mighty mountains,

a sudden disturbance in the water;  we are in the company of whales

we spy a spout of steam,  a telltale sign, we watch for the whales

in summer, they come to feed on small fish off the coast of Alaska

fresh water runs in rivers from the melting snows of the mountains

slowly they move, ages old, ever changing,  grinding rock and ice, the glaciers

glow on a rare sunny day in July. We are thankful to be here in such a paradise

enchanted,  we watch the sunlight sparkle on waters of aquamarine

this is a color rarely seen – a translucent version of aquamarine

so pretty when it swirls, and suddenly,  there appear two killer whales

azure skies, the brilliant sun, running waters, crystal ice, this is my paradise

and a dream come true – long have I waited to come to Alaska

to see blue ice glowing in the fissures of the glaciers

and marvel at the snow- capped peaks of lofty, rugged  mountains

beaches are fine, but take me to the mountains

especially those that surround waters of aquamarine

crack! the sound echoes, as  ice splits from the glaciers

in the gold of the setting sun, the breach of a whale

I’ll forever remember the unrestrained beauty –Alaska

has all the facets of a true paradise

I walk in the beauty of this wilderness paradise

where wisps of fog conceal the tops of the mountains,

the leaves strung with pearls of morning dew.  Of Alaska,

I’ll always remember that incredible shade of aquamarine

and that sound in the night – the exhaling  breath of a whale

and those blue icebergs sailing by,  spawned by the glaciers

despite their age, there is a fragile beauty in the glaciers,

which is woven in the fabric of this natural paradise

I can hear it calling to me in the singing of the whales

as it  echoes through the canyons of the waiting mountains

and reflects in the waters of aquamarine

it’s a song of the wilderness,  – the song of Alaska

I came in search of whales, and the snow-capped mountains,

which rise in silhouette above the glacier icefields, in a paradise,

a dream taken form in aquamarine – Alaska.

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: All It’s Cracked Up To Be: Our Trip of a Lifetime

Daily Prompt: Tell us about a time when everything actually turned out exactly as you’d hoped.

Our cruise around Great Britain last summer was a bit complicated, but fortunately, as it was the vacation of a lifetime for us, everything went well. This was the first time we had ever used passports, but we sailed through security at RDU . We were in plenty of time to catch our ride (we even had time for chocolate ice cream). IMG_1204 We boarded our tiny plane and made it to Toronto, where we had a quick supper before boarding a larger, nicer plane for our trip to Heathrow Airport in England.

We had an almost glitch when, about halfway there, the flight attendants asked if there were any medical people on board because a passenger was having chest pains.  Fortunately there were, and when we arrived at Heathrow, a medical team was there to meet the plane.

We made it through customs and security, collected our luggage, which had the decency to take the same plane, and found our cruise line representative waiting for us, holding up a Princess Cruise Lines Card. We waited for a little while and were able to tap into the free Wi-Fi at the airport. Then we headed for a bus which whisked us off to the Southampton to board the ship.IMG_1180 IMG_1215We arrived at our cabin, and so did our well-behaved luggage, attended the requisite Titanic Scene safety drill, wearing our life jackets and assembling for a brief demonstration on how not  to drown while fumbling with our life jacket. Finally we were free to enjoy our cruise.

We didn’t get the Norovirus, or lose engine capacity or anything like that. We ate a lot of great food, enjoyed the musicals at the theatre at night, and the shore excursions by day. We even lucked out in getting the best guide for our Liverpool excursion, which was called “In the Footsteps of the Beatles.” Our guide, Marie, grew up across the street from Ringo and she was a font of information on everything to do with the Fab Four. Fantastic!IMG_1253

The weather was warm and dry for the most part, with one day of rain in Ireland. We also visited Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the beautiful town of St. Peter Port in Guernsey .IMG_1091 We spent a day in Paris and our two days at sea were spent enjoying the hysterical humor of the two cruise directors and their staff.

When our cruise was finished, we stayed for 2 more days to explore London and visit Stonehenge. We walked from our hotel to Buckingham Palace, ate some fish and chips in a pub, and rode on the upper deck of those familiar red buses of London.

Unseasoned travelers that we were, I think we did pretty well on our first foreign country experiences. I must give credit where credit is due, to my husband who did the planning and to the cruise line staff and the tour guides, who made it all, come together.  And, of course, to Air Canada, who flew us safely there and back to Toronto and then to RDU.  In Star Trek vernacular, the trip was “as smooth as an android’s bottom!”

Staying in Focus: An Autumn Wedding, Autumn Colors and a Look Back

Well, we are back from our next to last trip of 2013, and what a summer of travel and fun with family and friends we have had! We visited Atlanta in late May with our friends, Kathi and Don.We were exploring the Gone With the Wind Trail and highlights there were a bus tour of historic Jonesboro and  a tour of the Margaret Mitchell house where she wrote GWTW. We also took in a Braves game, where once we had hope for an exciting postseason. But that is a subject for my other blog, Focus on the Atlanta Braves. We also celebrated Mom’s 90th birthday on May 20, with a party at my sister’s house. She had a rough time this summer battling back a second attack of breast cancer, but her strength and positive outlook is getting her through.

My Mom at 90: So strong in her battle with cancer

My Mom at 90: So strong in her battle with cancer

Later in June we drove to Washington, DC to attend the wedding of our niece, Jeanette and Jarred Tafaro.  A week later found us flying to Heathrow airport in England to board the Caribbean Princess for a cruise around the British Isles. IMG_1375We toured St. Peter Port on the Isle of Guernsey and made ports of call in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, France and England. We covered everything from Stonehenge to The Beatles, sampled the local cuisine and searched for Nessie on a boat ride across Loch Ness. Bill saw the church in which his great grandparents married, and we visited The Cavern, a launching pad pub for the Beatles. We learned much about each place we visited, and the people in each country were delightful!

We returned home and attended a Monkees concert with our boys (what fun!) and then enjoyed a week with our house guests, Denise and Geoff, and dogs  Buddy and Bailey. Although there were some stressful moments as Denise and Geoff negotiated the closing on their house and the delivery of appliances and furniture (quite a nightmare at times) we really enjoyed having them stay with us. They moved out into their new home just before our family from NJ arrived. We enjoyed the usual shopping forays and looking at new houses, not to mention the traditional goodbye at Goodberry’s.  A few weeks later and we drove up to NJ to see our other niece, Becky, marry her new husband, Ally Randazzo.  As they took off for a honeymoon in Fiji, Bill and I headed to our haven in the Poconos for a few days of rest and relaxation. Here is a look back:

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And now we look ahead to the holidays, my favorite time of year. I love the fall, the changing leaves and that glorious blue sky free of the heavy, humid air of summer. That first nip in the air speaks to me of warm sweaters,  long nights, firelight, the crackle of leaves under my feet, hot apple cider and bowls of chili.  With all the holiday festivities and preparations, it will be time to pack those suitcases again for our annual Christmas visit to New Jersey before we know it!

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are a bit ahead of us in the autumn color display, so here is a sneak peek:

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Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: State of My Year

Daily Prompt: State of My Year

Over the course of a lifetime we all have ups and downs, experience highs and lows and this year has been a microcosm of a lifetime, with moments of sheer delight mixed with those of sadness and concern.

My mother began the year in relatively good health not knowing the year would bring another bout of breast cancer, a second mastectomy and a grueling experience with chemo. My sister and I watched as the vibrant woman my mother was began to fade away as the chemo ravaged her body. The doctors suspended that course and are trying to suppress the cancer with another treatment. She is at peace with her choice to live her last days with as much quality to her life as she can. She was able to attend her granddaughter’s wedding, and party with family and friends to celebrate her 90th birthday in May.  We do not know how much time she has, but at least for now, she is back to her old self and celebrating every day she is given.

Just a few weeks ago, my good friend, Debbi, was diagnosed with breast cancer and is beginning her treatment.  She is a strong woman and I know she will beat this. I sincerely hope a cure for this disease is found soon.

On the upside we traveled to Atlanta this summer to meet up with our friends, Kathi and Don for a weekend to follow the Gone with the Wind Trail, and see the Braves play baseball at Turner Field. Our friends from Poughkeepsie, Denise and Geoff, have decided to move here finally (we’ve hounded them for years) and we had the weddings of two of our nieces to celebrate, one which took place in June and one which will take place in October.

We took a 12 cruise around the British Isles, and spent 2 days in London before flying home. We had a wonderful time. Bill was able to see the church in Ireland where his great grandparents were married; we walked in the footsteps of the Beatles, his all-time favorite group, and were able to walk through John and Paul’s boyhood homes. When we got home, we had the chance to see my favorite all time group, The Monkees. It was the first time I had ever seen my favorite, Mike Nesmith, in concert.  Our boys went with us and it was a rocking evening. Add to all that, the Atlanta Braves are in first place in their division, and there is plenty of reason to celebrate life.

My colonoscopy this year was all clear, and five years from surgery, that is a good sign. My Parkinson’s disease, now, is being handled by exercise and medication.  I choose to live moment to moment, and not worry about what is to come – a cure for both my mom and me could be just around the corner.

Given the choice, I think most of us would choose life despite the pitfalls and challenges that may await us in the days and years ahead. So at mid-year I have to say, we are doing pretty well, all things considered. We are here to watch the sun rise every morning, celebrate each precious day, and enjoy what time we have with family and friends. We move forward not knowing what lies before us, but because life beckons us to do so…

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Staying in Focus: Coves and Coastlines, Lakes and Rivers

There were some beautiful vistas of harbors and coves, lakes and rivers on our trip. The beaches of Scotland and Ireland are rocky for the most part, but the guides told us that doesn’t stop people from spending a day at the beach. The rocky coastlines have a wild, pristine look that speakk of ancient times, Viking raids, and adventure. We took a boat ride on Loch ness  and , no, we didn’t see Nessie, but I took this photo of a rocky outcropping and it looks kind of like  a prehistoric creature swimming in the lake, so that is my “Nessie”. Enjoy a cruise along the coasts and rivers and lakes. It’s a beautiful day to be on the water!

“Nessie”

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Off the coast of Northern  Ireland:

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Loch Ness, Inverness Scotland

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Southern Ireland

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Staying in Focus: In the Footsteps of the Fab Four

A highlight of our cruise was our visit to Liverpool, where we followed the story of the Beatles and their early years in this port city. My husband is a huge Beatles fan, as he proved by winning the Beatles Music Trivia , which we played on board the ship. We were fortunate, too, as our tour guide, Marie, lived across the street from Ringo when he was young, and continued to keep up the connection into the Beatle years and through the Break up. and was a font of information on all things Beatle. She was one of the most ebullient people I have ever met, brimming over with enthusiasm and determined that we see as much as possible in the time  we had. Of course, they played Beatle tunes as we drove around the city.  So here is your chance to take a step into the past and walk in the footsteps of the lads from Liverpool- John, Paul, George and Ringo. Turn on your  iPod, choose your favorite Beatles songs and enjoy!

First, a few shots of Liverpool

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We were able to walk through John Lennon and Paul McCartney‘s childhood homes. You can see them below, Bill an I in front of John’s house and  Bill  standing in front of Paul’s. We passed the street where Ringo grew up, but sadly these hom s have fallen to ruin. We walked by the home of George, now occupied by another family.That is the  rose-colored one with the black door.We drove on Penny Lane and saw the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the barber  shop and the bank from the song. We drove past Strawberry Field and visited the new  Cavern, a replica of the original which was torn down as it was  a fire hazard with only one way out. We toured The Beatle Story, a wonderful museum , and ate lunch at the Hard Days Night Cafe.

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