A Travellerspoint blog

It’s a wrap

Home is where the heart is and right now Corvallis is golden

It’s a wrap: 55 Days, 22 beds, walking 263 miles. Travel by jet, train, bus, taxi, tram, metro, rental car, limo, Uber, camel.....the following are places we either slept or visited for at least a meal and walk about.
Trieste, Italy
Opatija, Croatia
Zadar, Croatia
Split, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Zagreb, Croatia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Padua, Italy
Venice, Italy
Torchello, Italy
Burano, Italy
Ferrara, Italy
Bologna, Italy
Bellaria, Italy
Dogana, San Marino
Foligno, Italy
Montefalco, Italy
Bevagna, Italy
Assisi, Italy
Ronciglione, Italy
Rome, Italy
Pompeii, Italy
Sorrento, Italy
Amalfi, Italy
Ravello, Italy
Positano, Italy
Minori, Italy
Salerno, Italy
Fiumicino, Italy
Budapest, Hungary
Vienna, Austria
Hallstatt, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Linz, Austria
Prague, Czech Republic
Paris, France

What for? No real good reason other than interest and wonderment in and about our world.
What was the best? It’s going to take some time to digest. It always seems like time brightens most journeys, but things that stand out in my memory are the surprising cosmopolitan feeling that exist in Croatia and Slovenia, our first night in Padua, Italy with a balcony overlooking the basilica, the Roman history (and crowds), the sea breeze, cocktails and wine experience in Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello, the way the people in Budapest seem to have replaced the grayness of their communist past with such vitality, the incredible livability in Vienna, the beauty of the Austrian countryside, the quick remake of Prague into one of Europe’s most beautiful and culturally iconic cities. Paris is still Paris - the city of light and enchantment - arguably the most romantic and civilized destination on earth.

Did I learn anything?
People all over are more alike than they are different. We love our kids, enjoy our local foods, experience joy at good fortune and cry when tragedy strikes. We celebrate our country’s great moments and past achievements and we rely on our youth to lead us to a better world. We are proud of our culture and our arts and no matter where you live, money can make you more comfortable, but it still is no guarantee of happiness.
Before you start a trip like this, admittedly, there are doubts whether you can pull it off. After all, it would be easier and more comfortable to just stay home. One thing a journey like this teaches you is you can do most anything you set your mind to accomplish.
The big question..... Would we do it again?
My feet are still sore from the 263 miles (all verifiable on the iPhone health tracker), and I certainly would not take this exact trip again - too many other places to see in this world. Since I have been to Italy 5 times, Italy may drop down the list temporarily. As we get older, hucking suitcases over cobblestone streets and up hotel and rail station stairs becomes less appealing. Either we bring less stuff (I made it 7 weeks with a carry- on) or we travel in a more luxurious style with Porters/drivers carrying luggage and very little bus travel.
Also, another caveat to future travel is the damn tourists ;)
On our last three month Europe trip in 2015, we had a car most of the trip and we spent more time in small towns. We hit a lot of big cities this trip, and even though we tried to travel before the high season, the bus loads of pushy tourists with selfie sticks took its toll.
So.....I think next trip overseas will be a stay in one place deal for a long period. Bring a suitcase, unpack it once and from then on - just use a day bag.
A few words about language. I can almost get around fine with Italian and Spanish. Hungarian was a complete bust as I might have learned two words. Throw in the Austria/German, add the Czech and finish it with a dollop of French at the end and this boy is feeling foolish yearning for anything English outside of a Texas drawl. That said, thank god that the Europeans are all smarter than us and many speak several languages including English quite well.
Also... where would we be without our smart phones? We use them to book train and bus tickets, call for an Uber, to set up tours, to research where we’re going to go, and most importantly as maps to help us find destinations and not get lost. I have no idea how people traveled before the invention of smart phones.
We spent the end of winter in Croatia, dressed in jackets, scarves, and gloves walking in pockets of late snow and buckets of persistent rain, early spring in Italy where the weather changed every 15 minutes and late spring in Prague and Paris with trees and flowers in full bloom and the sun touching 80 degrees. It did rain in Paris, but that assuredly was to prep us for our return to the Willamette Valley.

What are we looking forward to?
Our kids and grandkids, our own bed, our friends, good wine, planting our veggie garden, BBQing on our deck, getting my piano chops back.
Also looking forward to revisiting our itinerary and this blog in six months and basking in the glory of checking another off the bucket list.

And finally.....a huge hug and shout out to my partner in travel nirvana...the one and only Cathy La Bouchet. Greatest travel partner on the planet and probably the only living being who could do the 50+ 24/7 with me. That girl is Nobel Peace Prize material. Plus, she is cute as can be.

“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”
Dr. Seuss

Hunter S. Thompson perspective is even better: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

We took about 2000 pictures. Lucky for you, here are our favorite 100+.
https://myalbum.com/album/07OJ0LJr1BGh

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Your text to link here...

Posted by Catnchas 15:39 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Last day in the City of Light

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Last day in the city of light
Finally, sunshine!
We were almost ready to put the cat in the bag and tie it with a bow. Then we got the invite for lunch with my former student Suzanne and her French husband Roman. It was a great opportunity to get out of central Paris into the outlying neighborhoods. We jumped at the chance, saddled up and followed the hotel concierges directions to their apartment. They had prepared the perfect French lunch and we enjoyed a wonderful time sharing past stories and future dreams. What a cute couple they make!
We decided we would stop by La Marias in the way home and search for the creperie we “discovered” on our last trip to Paris. What we “discovered” was there are a bazillion creperies in that part of Paris.
If you ever need a guide to help you get lost on the Paris underground metro, I am your guy! We were able to magically turn the short direct train that was supposed to take 10 min into a 6 train two hour full Paris tour!

Pics are just random unbelievable stuff around Paris. Also the very cute Suzanne and Roman.
By tmro morning, West coast time, we will be flying over the ice cap - wishing I had made the same investments the dudes in the front rows made.
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Posted by Catnchas 13:25 Archived in France Comments (0)

April in Paris

Seems more like January in Ireland

storm

April in Paris -

We have a nice room with a gorgeous view of the Palais Granier (Opera House). Restaurants all around, best croissants, all within arms reach.
We are doing major R&R to prep for the long journey home Wednesday.
Our desire for fighting crowds and sightseeing is nil.
We went to Jardines d’Luxembourg yesterday and the difference in crowds between that and Tuileries is amazing. Also stopped at Angelina’s for the world’s best (and most expensive) hot chocolate. Walked past The Louvre, but just not able to buck up to the crowds. Got a beer instead.
This morning we toured the inside of the opera house. As amazing as the outside is, the inside is even more incredible. This is not Versailles, just the Opera House. Those dudes loved their music.
We are pretty impressed by the view from our balcony. Literally right across the street from the Opera. Sometimes the ball bounces your way.

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Posted by Catnchas 07:29 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris

A fitting end, or the end of being fit?

semi-overcast 62 °F

Paris
Our second visit in Paris. Lucky enough to be staying at one of the iconic hotels - Intercontinental Paris Le Grand. Even luckier still that we certainly did not pay the rack rate. We won’t be eating here either as breakfast starts at $45 Eu, cocktails in the bar @$24 Eu and the beer in the room mini-fridge @$14 Eu. That said, we will enjoy parading around like we are la haute société - even though our clothes are seven-week travel wrinkle -worn “chic”.....but we will get our coffee and croissants around the corner.
Our five days in Paris are starting like our first week in Croatia. Rain and cloudy skies. The trifecta of tired feet, over-dazzled museum minds and a huge dose of burnout of crowded tourist hot spots will likely limit our sightseeing to finding a Parisian cafe and people watching - at least for today. In fact, in a to hell with culture moment, I have a confession. After we checked into our room yesterday, I checked the TV. Expecting to find the usual limited English channels (BBC & European CNN), I was ecstatic to find a (this is where I give my true cultural IQ away) JOHN WAYNE movie. IN ENGLISH!!!! Feet up on the bed, open that bottle of bourbon I bought at the Prague airport and voila!! Heaven! You can’t tell me there is a better way to spend your first afternoon at the Paris Hotel Le Grand than watching the last half of “Chishum” while sipping a glass of bourbon in bed. If you don’t see the divine beauty here, then we probably can’t hang out anymore.
We did manage to make it out for an early evening walkabout. Found a crêperie and a fantastic wine shop on our way back from the Jardines Tuileries. Good thing I’m already broke.
I did do my usual walk this morning, but now just long enough to find some coffee, a chocolate croissant and snap a few pics.
Life is good, even with tired feet.
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Posted by Catnchas 01:22 Archived in France Comments (0)

Leaving Prague

After five nights, we are still impressed.

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Great food, beautiful buildings, friendly folks, tasty beer. Maybe my favorite European city.
Walked up 186 circular steps to the top of the powder tower built in 1475. Great views of the old city.
Found the world’s best brat sausages, washed down with cold Prague local beer. Hung out with Anton Dvorak,
and finally opened a bottle of Italian Sagrantino I have been lugging around for three weeks.
Off to Paris tomorrow.
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Posted by Catnchas 13:09 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Winding down

But not quite

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I could get used to this.....but at a slower pace.
It’s been over six weeks. First, you’re just thrilled to be on an adventure. The food, the wine, the sights, the people, everything is somewhat exotic and different.
After a while, the newness wears off and you start noticing some of the little things that make travel difficult. The constant packing and repacking, how to deal with dirty clothes, the challenge of watching CNN and the BBC in a language that you don’t understand, the hurry up and wait of travel and just the uncertainty of everything around you.
But after you work your way through all of that, you can see just how cool long international travel can be. Here is a typical day for us:
I get up early, Cathy likes to sleep. I usually use that time to go exploring – often walking 3 or 4 miles and maybe grabbing local breakfast before returning to the hotel or apartment around 9AM. We figure out a way to get good coffee and then get out our maps and iPads to plan our adventures for the day. Although we don’t want to look like tourists, we often wind up doing the major tourist activities- at least for the first day or two in a new location. Both of us really hate crowds, so we try to plan around prime times.
We usually get an activity or two accomplished before lunch. Lunch is often a bigger meal and usually includes wine or beer. Then we might go separate ways. I’ll look for a wine shop, have an afternoon coffee, gelato or pastry, stroll through the park, whatever...Cathy practices the Olympics of shopping. In fact, I believe she is an international gold medal winner in that activity.
Usually around 5PM we will meet back in the apartment or hotel for wine and snacks. When we discuss dinner options, Cathy has two favorite words and they both start with with “S”. Can you guess what they are? I have a favorite word that starts with “N” and ends with “O”. After we discuss options, we go get a “S”alad and “S”plit it. Just kidding, except those are her two favorite dinner words.
Sometimes we do an activity after dinner, but usually we just keep walking, walking, walking......

All the stuff you see is amazing, eye-popping, I can’t believe it stuff....but, I confess to burning out on churches, museums, art galleries, castles, statues and especially all the crowds that accompany them.
One thing I do know however, is that someday we will be sitting alone on our deck looking over the Willamette Valley, drinking a great Pinot and have some damn good memories.

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Posted by Catnchas 22:22 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Prague

Pretty much love at first sight

sunny 73 °F

Prague or Pra-ha as the locals pronounce it is the epitome of what you imagine a beautiful European city to look like. The architecture is stunning. Part baroque, part Art Nouveau, all with a Gothic Russian flavor and a sprinkle of Cubism. Since throwing off the shackles of communism in 1989, the old town has been spit-polished clean and crime is non-existent. Walking around, you could have told me we were in turn of the century Paris and I would eagerly believe you. Yes, there are an abundance of tourists, but move over a block or two and they nearly vanish.
We arrived late Monday afternoon, and took a short walk around the neighborhood at dusk. We are staying in an apartment at the edge of the tourist area. No hotels and mostly locals, but only a 6-8 min walk to the action. Our first impression was like....”Wow, this is kinda what I always hoped Europe would be”.
Today we got super lucky and hired a great guide for three hours to show us the city and the main attractions. It was money well spent as not only did we see some of the main tourist sites, but also some hidden gems along with a great history lesson. We also got advice on best restaurants, best public transportation, best beer and most importantly how do I avoid the tourist traps.
We have 5 more days here before we wrap up our journey in Paris. If Prague continues to impress us, it may move to the top of our three month Euro dream visit list.
Pictures show the fabulous architectural diversity, some of the highlights of the city, yours truly at the infamous John Lennon wall and the Charles Bridge (not kidding), the actual stone streets (which I refer to as suitcase busters), a peek at the Jewish cemetery and the famous clock which shows Hebrew numbers running backwards, me stealing food from the swans, my new favorite beer in my new favorite bar, and a great bird photobomb.
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Posted by Catnchas 11:54 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

A Seminal moment

This can’t be happening.....

Standing while riding a crowded city bus in Vienna, a young woman with a baby stroller- maybe age 22ish, asks me if I want her seat. I smile and whisper a muted no thank you, but my brain explodes. Expletives rush into my thinking....”wait isn’t this supposed to be the other way around?” “I’m still young, I work out, I just gave blood, I painted my house last summer....what the #@*&%?..”
Thinking about on the walk back to the hotel....maybe things work differently here....maybe it’s that new short Steve McQueen haircut I just got......oh shit!!!!

I’m reminded of a quote from a Dr. Seuss book I often read to my kids when they were young.
How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
How to do this both gracefully and graciously?
If you figure it out, let me and the other 10 million guys my age know.

Posted by Catnchas 09:03 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Leaving Vienna

Driving to Salzburg through the Austrian lake country

sunny 80 °F

Stuffy waiters are written off as part of the charm.
In general people were extremely friendly and although we saw a hint of the Parisian snobbishness in the Viennese Coffee Houses.
Not sure why the coffee houses charged three times what we paid in Italy. Perhaps it’s because in Vienna it’s a leisurely long-morning stake-out of the table with newspapers conversation, maps, planning, etc. - whereas in Italy, it’s a medicinal act you engage in as quickly as possible and then hurry on. I do believe that the aloofness of the waiters is not just directed Americans but all customers, although you could forgive them as you see Starbucks and McDonald’s challenging them and choosing prime locations. Why anyone would choose McDonald’s over a Viennese coffee house is beyond my comprehension.
So we left Vienna on Saturday morning. I splurged and rented a Mercedes “C” class, but was pleasantly surprised when they apologized and said they could only give me an “E” class (the big dog).
Two hours out of Vienne and in the foothills of the Alps, we stopped in the town of Mürzzuschlag for lunch - sausages and spatzle and a small local beer. Then on to the super picturesque lake town of Hallstatt.

After the glorious room and bed at the Intercontinental in Vienna for four nights - where I deposited my Blazer gear in the hotel trash can :( - our standard room at the Hotel Achtal in Salzburg brings us back to reality. Tomorrow it’s Mozart, Sound of Music sites(the movie was filmed here), Salzburg Museums, Bratwurst and sour kraut, long walks, and probably a cold stein of local bier to combat the 80 degree weather.
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Posted by Catnchas 23:38 Archived in Austria Comments (1)

Nessun Dorma

Vienna State Opera

Of course, Pavarotti won’t be singing the role of Prince Calif tonight, but we will be hearing this aria. If life got any better, it would be illegal.

http://youtu.be/rTFUM4Uh_6Y
It was great...though I’m surprised that 100 Eu seats put you on the 4th balcony side. The setting and the singing were inspiring. The band was none less than the Vienna Philharmonic so they stole the show imo.

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Posted by Catnchas 08:45 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

A Day in the Life.....in Vienna

And it ain’t t too bad.

sunny 75 °F

Today was a on your own day. Cathy was free to shop her heart out without dragging me around and I was free to go to my favorite music and museum spots.
I started with a walk through Stadtpark, admiring the statues and flowers. Exiting the park onto a main square, I indulged with a rich Viennese coffee and sat there for a half hour people watching.
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Then I walked through the winding streets to the Mozarthaus (Mozart spent four years in Vienna towards the end of his short life). It felt strange to walk the same steps and look through the same windows to the same streets as Mozart.
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After that I hoofed it to the Kunsthistorisches Museum - a huge collection of Egyptian art on the first floor and then a bazillion important paintings from the renaissance to modern times on the second floor. You could easily put 10 Reser Stadiums inside this building and I hung on until the lunch pangs just got the best of me.
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After lunch (great sushi, believe it or not), I made my way back to the Opera House and found some decadent dessert.
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I could get used to this kind of life. Everything except the walking.

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Theses bad boy Keens have logged over 200 miles. I’m taking them to the taxidermist when we return home. Going to get them mounted and put on the mantle Jared Kushner style

Posted by Catnchas 09:20 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Vienna!

Europe’s musical capital

sunny 77 °F

A nice 2.5 hr fast train from Budapest through the Hungarian and Austrian countryside to Vienna. We arrived mid-afternoon and decided to walk the 1 mile from the train station to our hotel. By now our legs are steel girders, while the rest of our body shows the effects of pasta, wine, chocolate, gelato and pastries. Vienna is pretty impressive. In the 24 hours we’ve been here, I have probably been invited to 40 concerts, seen statues of 20 composers, and read the word musik at least 1000 times. We walked past at least 15 major museums this morning, while trying to make up our mind which ones we want to visit.
I have big news! All my working life as a musician I focused on string and full symphony orchestra music while trying to keep my piano skills from completely fading away. That meant I had to choose, and I chose to skip opera entirely. I kept telling myself I’ll save it for when I’m more mature and ready. I don’t know about more mature, but I feel I’m ready!
We are going to see Puccini’s Turnadot this Friday night at the Vienna state opera house! I had to mortgage the house to get good seats, but damnit the chance to hear the aria Nessun Dorma live in Vienna at one of the worlds great opera houses seems like a no-brainer. Cathy is also excited to go and we are studying the libretto and the arias so we won’t stand out like ugly Americans wondering if they serve Big Macs during the halftime show.
Back to Vienna....We walked all through the old inner city, visited Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the Hofburg palace, the public market, had some Wienerschnitzel, drank some Austrian Beer, tried the Sachertorte and saw a guy in a donkey suit playing the accordion. Just like home. The architecture is amazing, everyone rides bikes, and the city seems to embrace the arts like we embrace the concept of clean water. Send money.
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Posted by Catnchas 07:29 Archived in Austria Comments (1)

Budapest Central Public Market

sunny 76 °F

Train stations are large and the older ones are often beautiful. As the railway system expanded, they often needed larger spaces away from the city center. We have found several old stations that have been converted into beautiful public spaces - La Boqueria in Barcelona, Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon, etc. The Central Market Hall in Budapest is also a great public market with all kinds of produce, meats and spices on the ground floor and restaurants, clothing stores above. We even found several stores that just sold hundred of different kinds of paprika! We love seeing the local fresh fruits and veggies and can’t pass by the bakeries without indulging.
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Posted by Catnchas 22:52 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Budapest

Damn nice and full of spice

sunny 76 °F

Budapest - first impressions: part Paris, part Soviet Union.
Cheap food, inflated currency (the Forint) - went to the ATM to get $500 and got $120,000 Forints. You feel like a high roller when you go to pay for dinner an whip out a couple $10,000 dollar bills.
We are staying in and AirBnB in a great location on the Pest side of Budapest. Close to all the sights, restaurants and action, but far enough away for a quiet sleep. We are surprised at how young and vital the locals seem. People are friendly, food is both international and regional, and the public transportation is modern and efficient. It’s really a great city.
Had goulash for dinner. It’s a soup, not a stew. Drank 3 beers in two days - a record for me, but it’s damn good beer. Also found a bar a block away from our apartment that specializes in bourbon and whiskey, so that could be a problem.
Of course the Danube runs through the middle of the two old cities (Buda and Pest) and river cruise ships dominate the water.
We walked the prerequisite 5+ miles each day, ate more than we should (broke down and got a burger), took a night river cruise, I got a haircut (you know you have been traveling a long time when you need a haircut on vacation in Europe). We also went to the big market hall. More about that in the next post.
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Posted by Catnchas 22:00 Archived in Hungary Comments (0)

Arrivederci Italia!

sunny

Arrivederci Italia!
5 days on the Amalfi Coast - just what we needed after the beautiful mayhem that defines Roma.
We spent yesterday in Positano, enjoying shops, seafood lunch (grilled anchovies for me), and a lovely ferry ride along the coast returning to Amalfi.
On a side note, I have nominated any and all of the Amalfi Coast bus drivers for the Nobel Peace Prize. Their delicate, yet aggressive ballet through the harrowing Amalfi cliffs - navigating past other busses, a myriad of crazed motorcycles, pedestrians and caffeinated drivers on what should be one-lane road is an act of supreme heroism.
Today is a travel day. Ferry to Salerno, a couple hours and lunch in the main piazza, then train back to Roma for an overnight stay at the airport before taking an Alitalia flight to Budapest. Giving away my travel books, maps and my Italian accent.
Buon Giorno Italia! Arrivederci, Ciao Grazie Amore, Molto Bella!
Carlo e Caterina
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Posted by Catnchas 03:18 Archived in Italy Tagged ferry amalfi positano Comments (0)

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