WHY THIS BLOG?

I AM PARCA'S CHOSEN:
Parca is the Roman Goddess of Childbirth and Destiny and after you get to know me, you will see why I believe she has, without doubt, made me her Poster Child. I deal with the odd serious issue but for the most part, my posts are just some cheeky fun, reviews of favorite shows, and true stories that will make you laugh out loud (or run screaming...I don't know you well enough to predict your behavior). You'll find satire with the odd parody tossed in....and most definitely a generous helping of hyperbole, with a dollop of facetiousness.

I am Canadian so expect a bit of politeness too. Sorry.

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

CONFESSIONS OF AN AGING TRAVELER (or *THE ART OF FALLING APART ON HOLIDAY)



*please click on colored words for further info or pictures
**click on pictures to enlarge them

Holidays can be Hell if you’re over 50. And me.


Back just a couple of days from my 3 week European holidays, I was asked if I could give a Reader’s Digest version of my trip; a three sentence summation.


No problem. 


“Mental and physical torture laced with drops of Pure Ecstasy that drove me to persevere, putting one foot in front of the other…searching for just one more fix…one more hit of Delight that helped justify the thousands of dollars and massive amounts of energy spent. If I were a rock band playing Europe, I would have called myself The Transcontinental Incontinental Black-Lung/Raging Rash/Sore Feet Tour. My T Shirt would read: I Survived The Vatican Guided Tour.


Or, more succinctly, the band would be called The Not-Fit-Enough To Tour Tour.


It’s not that I didn’t prepare for the trip. I knew that I would be walking extensively throughout London, various parts of Germany and Rome, so I started a strict regime months prior. Every day I looked at my treadmill and promised myself to use it for an hour, then I went on FaceBook with a nice hot cappuccino and a diet muffin (read: not chocolate). Apparently this wasn’t enough.


I knew I would be eating out daily and, in Germany, facing The Food Force that is my sister-in-law Monika (the woman shows her love by cooking. And baking. A lot. 3 guests need 2 choices of cake each and a table set with food for 10. This is not an exaggeration. In fact, it is an understatement) So, to balance what I assumed would be a 10 pound weight gain, I set out to lose as much beforehand. I lost 15, gained back 20 and then just stopped checking, hoping naively that traveling would sort it all out somehow. 


I decided that I am simply not good at trip preparation. *although my bags were organized very well. I pack a mean suitcase.


I could write a book on our adventures but as I sit here exhausted from jet lag at 4:00 o’clock in the morning, a chunky report on my blog will have to do. You get to learn from my experiences and share in my ridiculously ridiculous life, and I get to purge the memories to begin to heal, and try to recall the fun parts so they rise above my aches and pains, making them worthwhile. I hope. 


LONDON

Being a white–knuckle flyer, this is usually the worst part of any trip for me. This time though, being more mature (I guess being 55 has its benefits after all) and having a Little White Pill at my disposal made the almost ten hour Air Canada flight to London from Vancouver a 4.5 out of 10 on the Shitty Flight Scale. I usually rate them 9.9. I slept a bit, ate well (any food I don’t have to prepare or clean up afterwards is Heaven to me) and watched movies on my wee screen facing me the entire way. 

I hate the digital maps you can bring up on the screen though. It shows a Real Time ‘comic’ picture of your plane as it heads for your destination and the more I watch it, the slower it goes. And I visualize it nosediving into the pretty blue water making cartoon splashes, and grey fins circling the whirlpool left by the sinking plane….well, you get my drift. Nobody with my imagination should travel.


We (my husband Peter, to be known from here on in as my DH {dear husband, as we refer to our menfolk on our Outlander based FaceBook page ‘Outlander Series’} and our 16 year old daughter Katja) arrived in London Heathrow Airport in one piece and immediately had a major issue.  We had somehow not received our Landing Declaration Forms and after waiting for a gazillion hours for our turn to enter the country, were given the forms to fill out and went to another line where Katja promptly set her new coat down and then left it behind. I will be contacting Air Canada Lost and Found which, for some reason, has to be at the furthest (almost) end of the country in Montreal, Quebec. Bloody hell. That coat has flown to more cities than most people. *sigh*

*NOTE: for the aforementioned FB group I run, here is what I watched all the way to Europe! How cool is that?  I am a book lover and not a huge fan of the show to be honest, but for some reason I enjoyed it a lot whilst flying even though some naughty bits were cut out. Go figure.
                                                      Outlander: Full Season 1

After finding the underground Metro Line (aka: The Tube), we set out to find Russell Square and our hotel, chosen for its close proximity to said Tube. The recorded voice that sounded throughout the underground at every stop saying ‘Mind The Gap’ (reminding commuters to watch their step as they walk over the gap between the train and the concrete walkway) was a proper English matron that reminded me of James Bond’s secretary M. I said that I would like a T-shirt with that saying on it…and ended up buying key chains and T’s already made! Great minds think alike. The hauling of the luggage (that I was beginning to loathe) up and down the stairs of the Underground would prove a thorn in my side the entire journey however, and I was shocked there were no key chains and T’s made that said ‘Lugging Luggage on The Tube Kills ’. 


We left the Metro, and the Google Verified 5 minute walk to the hotel became a Keystone Cop comedy of pulling suitcases back and forth over the streets after getting conflicting advice from passersby and two clueless Bobbies who even had a Blackberry at their disposal. After 15 minutes of this bullshit and losing a wheel to my suitcase on a hard curb, the inevitable rain began to blur my glasses so, to avoid going flippyapeshit, I hailed a Black Cab. The gentleman cracked a U-ee, loaded us up and promptly drove us around the block. It took 30 seconds and cost us 5 £ ($10.00 Canadian). I would have paid thousands at that point though as I was fresh off a plane, the Tube, wet and tired of dragging an overstuffed suitcase with 3 wheels all over The Queen’s cobblestones and was mightily ticked off at my husband for not having a Hogwarts Wand to magically make our hotel room appear.


The Gower House Hotel ended up being a quaint little B&B/Hotel in a row of brick homes with comfy beds and a defunct fireplace in the room that added charm but no warmth. It had ready heat available though so we were quite comfy and although the 12 feet walls looked like Shrek had projectile vomited on them (read: bright green), it was not necessarily unpleasant and the window opened easily to look on a wee garden-like area that was home to the prettiest sounding songbirds that woke us in the morning. Quite mesmerizing really. Of course, the promised hot and plentiful buffet breakfast was not available due to renovations (that I believe have been on-going for about 85 years) but the terrific staff did bring up a few croissants and buns with condiments and tea/coffee in the morning to the room, which we were happy enough with, so no harm done. It clocked in at about $175.00CND a night which was our cheapest buy that trip and extremely good value for the location we were in; thus the high guest ratings. I think the other rooms are small, as is the norm in England and most of Europe, but Room #9 was great for us three and we enjoyed it.






A fantastic traditional pub called The Marlborough Arms was just around the corner and a bit, so we had our first British meal surrounded by old wood and old world charm. Bangers and Mash, Potato Jackets with Beans and cold beer….it was Heaven. What a delight! Katja had never been in a pub before (Canadian law prohibits minors, under 18, to be in bars or pubs) so she was wide eyed and rather impressed with it all.



(Another amazing pub, The Salisbury in Covent Garden, even had a bathroom that looked like the Pull Chain Toilet one in The Godfather! Yes, I had to check to see if a gun as taped underneath the tank. LOL!)

Good first day in all and ready for plenty of adventures! *be careful of what you wish for, you may get them *sigh*

                                          The Queen's Guard at Hyde Park

                                                                  Trafalgar Square


                                                       Westminster Abbey

                                                                 Tower of London

                                                    National Portrait Gallery

Queen Victoria Bust: I was mesmerized by her. So life-like...felt so amazing to be near 'her':

                       Guard for The Crown Jewels: I swear he smiled at me after I took this!

                                    Nice pic but the air quality is rubbish in London


The next few days were spent walking throughout London and touring the necessary places like Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, The National Portrait Gallery (LOVED it there), a few Must Sees recommended by the terrific British Medieval History group I am in, and then...Star Wars

3D mega movie in the centre of London in a beautiful theater with 2 of my favorite people...for only $30.00 CND each. Yes...EACH. My DH would have choked on his popcorn but it probably cost $100.00 per kernel so we didn't even think to buy any. Great show but we felt ripped off. Don't know why. It was like the fact that London was extremely expensive was only a one day thing and we kept thinking the prices would go down tomorrow. Weird ass logic but whatever. It was as it was. Maybe just denial at its finest? 



All this traipsing around would have been easy-peezy-lemon-squeezy had I done more than just eyeball my treadmill, but as it was, believe me, my feet and legs suffered for the curiosity of my head and longing in my heart to 'see it all'. I chewed through Tylenol like they were packs of Smarties and even that barely worked (I did use one Tylenol#3 once, powerful stuff, and it worked like a charm and I had less trouble after that). I cursed myself for not packing better walking shoes as well, but it was too late…my Fate was sealed and sore feet and legs would be my main burden to bear this trip. Or so I thought. I was blissfully ignorant of the horrors awaiting me.


GERMANY


I had traveled under the English Channel before some odd 20 years before on a spit-polished new EuroStar Train and was looking forward to showing it to our daughter. Modern technology at its finest….The Chunnel being a massive and marvelous project to connect England to the rest of Europe. The cost was as much as a flight and took longer, but I had had enough of planes and had to fly to Rome from Frankfurt in a week, so No Thanks…the train won hands down.


Boarding the EuroStar soon proved the old adage correct: you can’t go back. Indeed the day of the smart, sleek train was gone and in its stead was an Good Old Girl, worn out, neglected and fraying at the edges. Sort of like me. But my neglect is self-inflicted though laziness. She still had the energy to run like a racehorse through The Chunnel, but she sorely needed some TLC. Nevertheless, the job was done and we made it to Germany without incident, but I was still a little disappointed. Perhaps my Memories were shinier than Reality? *shrug*

However, another reality reared its ugly head and I soon realized that we now had to drag the suitcases up and down the train stations around Germany too (bigger centres have elevators but when you are trying to catch a connecting train, most times you don’t have time for them). 

NOTE TO SELF: Next trip pack 1 pair of pants; 1 sweater; 1 pack of disposable panties (if there is such a thing); 1 toothbrush, 1 pair of good shoes and 1 framed picture of Sean Bean. That’s it. I have learned that this is all I really need.


Germany proved to be a Fattening of The Calf I expected it to be and a table creaking from the weight of cakes, meats, cheeses and food fit for The Gods awaited us. This table, much like the Hogwart’s tables (yes, I am a massive Harry Potter fan) never felt bereft of food and the supply was eternal. Sister-in law Monika is a Master Chef and should open a restaurant. We hadn’t visited her properly for 12 years so I think she felt the need to make up for lost time and fed us 12 years of food in the week we were there. *Below: Tea Time for 3 people (she never eats much)....3 cakes, and fresh pastries and endless chocolates to come....



I needed help up any staircase, making me look like a 95 year old crash victim, so the extra food didn’t help me much, save for the visceral and culinary delight of 'schweining raus' (my made-up German term for 'pigging out') morning, noon and night. We met up with a lot of family, some for the first time, and it was truly special. Family is everything. Katja dolled up and much to my DHs consternation, his little girl turned into a stunningly beautiful woman before his very eyes and was the centre of attention. I could see him battle between feelings of extreme Pride and his natural Protective Instinct, and it was heartwarming. And so very sweet. A highlight for me, I must say, as the look on his face is etched in my heart forever.
*our Katja and an inset of Ingrid Bergman, who we think she is a doppelganger of... 

What I am trying to scrape away from my mind’s eye is the show we saw in Koblenz. We had bought tickets to the musical of My Fair Lady for Xmas Day and were all atwitter about the performance. Peter had seen it 25 years earlier and it was a smash hit. But…again….you can’t go back. It ended up being a monstrously horrible modern version musical and full of such bare sets and stupid artistic direction that we left early, thoroughly disgusted and angry at the waste of our money, time and the special occasion. I will have nightmares for years of 20 fluffy pink electronic puppies stiffly walking around, barking all over the stage and running into walls, while the singers warble their mediocrity into the night. Someone had a major fucking acid flashback creating that show, I can tell you. Such a shame. I felt sick. Literally.
Unfortunately, it was here that I picked up The Black Plague (they said it was a severe bronchial infection but what the Hell do THEY know) and the day before we left to fly to Italy, I had the shakes and a fever and was hacking up a lung. Lung-hacking in itself is a horrid affair but coupled with what I call OWL (Old Woman Leakage) it was a disaster. *yes, I am going there…

UGLY TRUTH TIME (walk away now if you cannot stomach bluntness): OWL. Okay. Nobody ever told me that 80% of women who have given birth experience varied levels of occasional or permanent incontinence (uncontrolled peeing) that ranges from a wee squirt to a roaring river. And having had 5 children (including twins) made me a potential fountain of fun. Why does no one talk about this? We're all adults, right? Bloody hell...time to put away the Fainting Hankies and talk straight up. I hadn’t had issues up until this point but the severe coughing made it mandatory for me to start buying the evil menstrual pads I had gleefully tossed in the garbage forever, having reached menopause. I mean really … seriously? I couldn’t believe it. For the first time in a very long time, my poor, long suffering DH had to go buy me Kotex pads and when asked if I needed Night or Day pads, he said "Both."

I have seen more bathrooms in Europe than any woman alive.

So began my big Piss Up (usually meaning a fun and drunken party) wherein I coughed and pissed all over Europe. And yes, that felt as awful as it sounds. And I knew why it was happening to me....

God was punishing me for stealing a tiny white candle from Westminster Abbey. Well, not stealing, I wouldn’t do that, but I DID only have a Canadian nickel on me when taking the candle and slipped it into the donation box as a token of my good intentions, but I fear that was a tad too insulting for The Big Guy. A few people said I had developed London Lung, as the air quality there is poor, but I blamed the Smokers, who seemed to stalk and vex us at every turn. Blah! As an ex-smoker, I can only cringe as to how bad I stunk all those years...*shiver* I apologize to anyone reading who smokes but seriously, you smell like shit. But I am sure you are very nice. Carry on.


Oh! I almost forgot! Back home in Canada I had developed a small, quarter sized rash on my right calf and had been trying to get rid of it for months, and so, because of the Nickle Fiasco In The Abbey, that rash spread like a Playboy Centerfold at cocktail hour and now both my legs, knee to ankle, sported a raging, itchy rash that was only tamed with scalding hot water. I’m sure I’ve damaged my skin for life but it is as it is (I am still scratching like a mutt in a flea circus and my doctor BETTER not tell me to 'use moisturizer’ again tomorrow or I’ll rip out his tongue with a pair of rusty pliers).

So let me change that sentence to ‘I coughed, pissed and itched myself all over Europe’. Ain’t life grand!

And I'm not done yet: the Perfect Storm was peaking. To top off it all off, and I shityounot, I had a molar abscess and had to go on penicillin which rendered me unable to drink for the rest of the trip. The deepest cut of all. I am allergic to most red wines and beers, but some wheat ale beers are fine as are one or two white wines. But they all were now off limits. The Gods are vengeful and cruel.

And Vindictive.

**Come in closer so I can whisper this part of the story to you....it's kinda personal**
The Ultimate Prank was played on me by said Vengeful Gods on one of our train trips…can’t recall which now as there were so many: swaying back and forth as one does on a train, I managed to hobble to the bathroom and discovered that I didn’t have a pad on. I had had a coughing fit and thought it was time to change it and was therefore shocked to my core to see it missing, and my panties and pants soaked like a newborn baby without a diaper. How the hell did that happen? Then it hit me. 


O.M.G.


The last bathroom break on a connecting train saw me throw and old pad away while sticking a new one on the side of the sink until I needed it, as one tends to do…well, at least I do. I must have stood up, washed my hands and left the clean pad hanging there in all its soft cotton glory. And I remembered the tall, dark, gorilla-like man waiting his turn to use the facilities. He must have been thoroughly grossed out...or oddly aroused...who knows. I was appalled. Was I THAT tired and sick to make such a mistake? Yes. Yes I was.

So, there I was, wetter than a duck in a rainstorm and no clean underwear. Head in hands, I just shook it and mumbled over and over….why me? whilst swaying back and forth on the toilet. I sighed and took stock of the situation. Maybe I could wash my undies and pants and dry them in the hand blower most trains had in the WC (Water Closet aka: toilet). This was an old train and I was pissed (pardon the pun) to see that water didn’t work when I ran my hands under the tap. 

Shit.

So, desperate to be dry, I removed my new boots with the thousand feet of laces, took off my pants and ladies-wear and dried them under the hot hand blow dryer. I laboriously re-dressed (small WC plus Big Women in swaying rail car does NOT equal convenience) which took forever, then I turned to flush and saw that I couldn’t do it the regular way….and noticed a diagram that showed a picture of a foot on the floor stepping on a flush button. Ah! A step flusher! Oh! And so was the water! One had to step on a floor button to access the water! Silly me. Silly old Dry Piss Panty me.

I couldn’t bear to undress again to wash and dry my clothes in that tiny, swaying Hell closet and I, thankfully, had perfume in my purse, so I cut my losses and went back to my seat, careful not have left any Sanitary Gifts behind for anyone. Katja and Peter laughed their asses off when I related my story to them. “Only you Mama, only you.” 


No kidding.

We drove to a few lovely old villages along the Rhein to show Katja her heritage and where she took her first steps as a baby (Boppard being my favorite and where I want to retire someday) and we also met up with friends in Köln, Germany (Cologne) where I managed to embarrass myself by waddling behind the group the entire time….hurting and cursing throughout the magnificent Cologne Cathedral.


That I wasn’t struck down by lightning was a wonder…and a blessing.




Actually, being struck down would have been a kindness. Vengeful Gods. Told you.


ITALY


December 30 2015 saw me huddled in a cold-sweat fetal position on a 2 hour flight to Rome, dry from no booze and wet from cough/pissing myself every 5 minutes. What a sad, pathetic sight that must have been to behold. And hear. Three people offered me lozenges, like I wasn't already sucking back dozens an hour. But I was sharing Italy with my daughter and DH and NOTHING was going to stop me! Bring it on!! *cough hack squirt cough hack squirt*
Our flight was actually half an hour early upon arrival, so having tracked down our shuttle service, we had to stand and wait 30 minutes for the other passengers from other flights and in that time I went to the bathroom approximately 458 times. When we finally got going, we flew through the Roman streets faster that Ben Hur in a chariot on fire and I only prayed that if we hit a tree, my body wouldn’t be found drenched in pee and half eaten by what I now believed to be the Flesh Eating Disease on my legs. 



The driver, Marcello (above), was talkative and very nice and took us directly to the wrong hotel. Ours was only a short 3 million steps up from the one we were unloaded at, so the kind concierge helped us find it and the Italian Leg of the trip began at last. And what a leg it was.

The Hotel Alamandi Vaticano is directly across the street from The Vatican; the entrance to the museum. It is all marble, class and style, and simply divine. The kind of place you don’t want to piss yourself in. Weighing in at approximately $500.00CND a night, we got our money’s worth…unlike England where you pay through your nose and only get snot (I am not really as mad as that sounded....I knew it would be expensive). But I digress.








Check-in was quick and easy despite being almost midnight and we fell into our large beds gratefully, impressed with all the wood and marble in the room, the 18 foot ceiling and gorgeous gold drapes and tassels and bedding. I felt like The Princess and The Pee. *sorry for the gratuitous pun

We opened the large window and gawked at the wall of the Vatican like The Pope was in one of the windows and we would see him flicking channels on his TV. 




It was beyond cool I must say. Katja was thrilled sick to be so close to the Sistine Chapel and is nearly an expert, having done a school presentation and much research on it. The tour of The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica was scheduled for the last day in Italy in 5 days, so I knew my first full day would see me alone in my bed, fighting the Plague and watching The Simpson’s in Italian, which is actually pretty damn funny. 


             
This young street performer played the theme to The Godfather. By the Vatican.      Ishityounot.

     I found my knight in shining armor. But he was shallow and empty inside....

                             The world famous Swiss Guard. No smiles here....

                                                St. Peter's Square

                                   *remember more pictures below after post


And so it played out as such and Katja and my DH had a fun Father/Daughter day in Rome, visiting the Coliseum and shopping. That made me feel better….I didn’t want to bring everyone down, and I knew their combined guilt for leaving me behind would reap me huge benefits like trinkets, baubles and yummy take-out food. Which it did. I had gotten my appetite back and was a beast. Luckily the mini-fridge didn’t have $50.00 bags of chips and bars because I would have eaten them all. And the wrappers.


That night was New Year’s Eve and my mega-pooped DH fell asleep at 10 (after we went to a wonderful concert at the All Saints Church for a gala performance of various Opera songs by 2 amazing singers and a small orchestra *Peter and I met whilst singing in an Opera company, so it was really quite special for us), so it was up to Katja and I to ring in the New Year. We took two wine glasses and a small bottle of disgustingly expensive Prosecco from the mini-fridge and went to the hotel rooftop terrace and sat at the tables and watched the fireworks in a 360 degree panorama of Rome, complete with floating lamps people were letting loose over the city. They sailed past us flickering with the wee fire inside, glowing orange and red in the cool but clear night air. One even breached the Vatican Wall and settled down past the trees, landing neatly next to the Pope I imagined, sipping his Prosecco like the rest of us. It was colorful, loud and amazing and a NYE to remember forever. I even stopped coughing for 3 minutes! It was also the one time I allowed myself a smidgen of alcohol. Italian champagne….I mean, come on! Penicillin schmelicillin!

I have to say here that the main reason we chose the hotel we did, was because of the pictures of its breakfast buffet. To say it was luxurious and sublime would be an understatement. Every imaginable food cooked to perfection and too many choices for mortal man to make and stay sane. Fancy liqueurs to aid digestion and table after table of gourmet dishes. Let’s just say that even The Plague couldn’t keep me away from THAT!


The next couple days were alright despite my barely being able to walk and the incessant coughing (and you-know-what that was getting progressively worse), but I didn't go too far. I was saving myself for the main tour coming up. And up it came.

The Vatican Tour can be summed up in one sentence: Sardines In Holy Oil. I have never felt so crammed together and herded before. I didn't tour the Vatican, I was squeezed through it like a tube of toothpaste.

Unfortunately, it was this day Katja woke up with my lungs. She felt nauseous and warm and had coughing fits, but there was NO way she was missing the tour and nothing could dissuade her from going. No hours wasted in EMERG and no doctors till we got home to Canada. She was adamant. So be it. She carefully placed a puke bag from the plane in her pocket and her mantra became, “I will NOT puke in the Sistine Chapel. I will NOT puke in the Sistine Chapel….” And she didn’t. She looked like a walking ghost but she did it. I was afraid if she stood still, a guard would think someone clothed a statue and would try and strip her down!

From the Get Go, we followed our multi-lingual tour guide on a fast paced walk that often got clogged with the gazillion bodies near us. She held a long metal pointer in the air high above the crowds, topped with a green scarf so we could always find her. The headphones were trained on her voice and we learned so much about the Vatican and Basilica etc….and I learned how easy it was to get separated from the group. I would stop to look at a tapestry or esophagus and bang! the group was gone and a minuscule green flag was swimming overhead a mile away, the guides voice a crackling static soliloquy of gibberish. I would draw a deep breath and elbow my way through the thick soup of tourists and other guided groups and eventually find mine, who were taking in an especially detailed review of something or other. Then it would begin again and I would play catch up, my DH trying to hang on to my hand and help me up stairways and such, but losing me in the throng of awe-struck humanity who couldn’t give a shit if I was being left behind, or suffering in more agony that Da Vinci ever suffered in his 20 year backbreaking ceiling artistry. Poor Katja was just happy to be alive and not vomiting on all that marble and history.


Speaking of marble, I have to say that although I liked it before, there was something mystical about it in Italy. While taking a shower our first night there, I touched the marble wall before and it was cool and hard, but soft somehow, and as I leaned on the marble warmed by the water, it felt alive. You couldn't help but caress it, and I was surprised to find it didn't dimple under my fingers like skin. I stood there fascinated by the hard/soft feel of it until the water began to run cold. It was an awakening to the beauty of stone and it opened up a whole new world for me. Pure magic.

What wasn’t magic though was the reality of ‘water plus marble floor equals skating rink conditions’. I put on the flat slippers the hotel had in the bathrooms and immediately slipped and almost broke my hip or leg or head….whatever would have hit the floor first had I not flung my arm to break my fall and then slipped again, and saved myself again, with a scream that woke up Peter and Katja, who thought we were being robbed at knife point. My arm was bruised from wrist to elbow the next morning but the buffet helped heal my wounded spirit….all three trips to it. 

It was official: I was a wreck from head to toe. The only things still working well were my ears and that was only because the Gods wanted me to hear everyone gush about how good the wine was. *hmpf*


Back to the Vatican Tour:  it was 3 hours long and we saw a LOT of brilliant and amazing things, but I think if I had to do it again, I would not do a guided tour but get a radio transmitter guide and take it easy, on my own. The human river sweeps one along (5 million people visit the Basilica and Chapel a year alone) and I would prefer to go against the tide and sit a while now and then and stare at the beauty before me properly. I should have known what was coming as by 6 every morning, the line ups outside the Vatican would start and reach miles long, winding down and along the wall. Every single day. Live and learn.  

                                                  The Sistine Tour




                                 A youtube version better than my video:

The food in the restaurants was good (but very pricey) save for the pizza. Not a surprise. Many years ago in Verona, Italy, I had the best pizza I had ever sunk my teeth into, bought by the meter and half meter on a board….but in Rome, they simply heated up a large, thin, round pita bread and slopped on some cheese and toppings. I could do that at home. My cat could do that at home. So minus points for Roman pizza. Just thought I’d give out that tip.

The last day in Rome came, sadly, and we thanked everyone profusely and off we went in the shuttle to the airport back to Germany to my sister-in-law’s and more schnitzel and cake. It is worthy to note that there was always a military presence at the Vatican. Armed military guards were always at the gates and around the walls and in the square. They even came across the street periodically and took turns grabbing an espresso from the front desk and we got to smile and say good morning to them now and then. They were young and very handsome Italian men with smooth olive skin and jet black hair, so Katja made sure to be on her best game coming downstairs (read: carefully applied mascara and lip gloss etc…) sick or not. LOL! That’s my girl!

Leaving that morning, they looked stern and serious holding their AK47s and standing guard across the road in the cold wind, but when I waved goodbye from the shuttle bus, they each broke into bright white smiles and waved back happily. Made me smile all the hour long way to the airport (that actually took the whole hour. No Marcello).

LONDON: Last Leg 


My diabetic husband was the healthiest one of our party and nursed us both as best he could, Lord bless him, but even with his efforts, we were an annoying pair of Hackerettes on the plane, and on train back in Germany. A one night stop at Monika’s home in Rhens to say goodbye, pick up our Evil Luggage, hugs and kisses and off by train to Brussels to grab the EuroStar again to dive below the Channel and enter London for the last leg of our trip.

We stayed at the Premiere Inn Leicester Square this time round to be near the theatre where we would be walking to Phantom ofThe Opera on our last night of holidays. The price of the room was steep, as are all things in London, so I was unhappy with the Lilliputian sized room when we checked-in. I felt like I should slouch so my head wouldn’t hit the ceiling. I whined about it, of course, and was quickly given the option for a little bigger room, but Peter declined as he didn’t want the hassle of re-pack and moving. 

We should have moved.

                          Premiere In Leicester Square (at the side, not the front)

Most hotel rooms in London don’t have clock radio or mini-bars and rarely night table lamps (maybe in the $1000 per night rooms but not in ours), so we assumed the lack of vent in the bathroom was par for course or maybe just strong and silent, but we were wrong. It was broken but we didn’t know this until I had enjoyed a hot shower. The room was like a sauna. The small window wouldn’t open (a sticker said we didn’t need to open it as the air was circulating. First time I ever swore at a window sticker) and it ended up being a hellish night. Clammy and sticky and miffed, I let the front desk know how unhappy I was and to their credit, they gave me a full refund for the night without hesitation and without me asking for it (that was 300 smackers back which I quickly spent the next day; I have a Black Belt in Shopping that no disease or malady can thwart). They offered us another room and apologized, which was appreciated too. The original room sucked and the towels looked worn out and tattered, but the staff were excellent and the buffet breakfast truly very good. So yea, they should work on their amenities, the maintenance of their rooms and building (chipped walls, crap towels etc) but their brilliant location and great staff made it bearable. You won’t find anything decent that is cheaper in the centre of London so I would recommend it and just put up with the cramped quarters. Pretend you are in the maid’s quarters of Downton Abbey. It helps.  
*NOTE: We are managers of a small motel in Canada and are rated #1 on TripAdvisor for years, so yes, I am quite critical of hotels and expect my money's worth

I had contacted Simon, my ex-cousin-in-law (ex hubby’s British cousin) by Xmas card before we left and was delighted beyond words to hear he had called the hotel and I met him for coffee and Strawberry Tarts. It had been over 20 years since we last met and he hadn’t changed a bit. I however am shorter, much wider, far greyer (read: not blonde anymore) and more wrinkled than a Shar Pei puppy, so the poor man must have been quite taken aback, but he hid his shock and recovered well and we had an absolutely lovely time. Another highlight of the trip for me. *I am sure if you are in London and are having a miserable time, you can call Simon and he will pop over to charm you.


The ultimate high of the entire holiday came our last night at the grand old building with the Royal name. Her Majesty's Theatre is a glorious old building, cozy, traditional and simply smothered in Yesteryear Ambiance. It cannot be expressed in mere words how much we loved the performance of Phantom. It was stunning. High drama with perfect voices matched with perfect music. World class set designs and costumes blended with perfectly executed stage direction. It was a Dream. And it's been running there for 30 years! Says everything.

In the words of my DH, a wonderful tenor himself and an experienced opera performer who is a harsh critic of all things musical and not easily impressed, “Now that is how it’s done.”

High praise indeed.
                                                    Her Majesty's Theatre

 *we weren't allowed cameras inside so these pics aren't mine. but they are the real performance

We chatted the night away excitedly, singing the praises of everyone involved in making our night magical…everyone from the conductor to the theatre staff who were kind and thoughtful to me in my attempt to watch the show but still position myself in a way that quick access to the bathroom was available after I spent the first half of the performance coughing hysterically into my sleeve and pissing all over Her Majesty’s Red Velour Seats. They even brought me glasses of water. Little did they know how they were feeding the beast. *embarrassed sigh*

It was a splendid end to a great adventure. Every rush to the bathroom, every agonizing luggage haul up subway stairs, every swollen gummed toothache, every ache and pain and every bottle of Tylenol was worth seeing Phantom. It was the essence of Miracles. The epitome of Grandeur. The Cherry on Top.


Seeing Simon and Monika and all the famous sites was special too…incredibly so, but Lord bless the art of a flawlessly played musical. Not even the Sistine Chapel, which came in a very close ‘Second Best Moment Of The Trip’, as discussed every day since coming home. *Katja is fond of saying now that puking in the Chapel would have made a better story to tell her friends. I say thank you Jesus/Buddha/Allah for small favors.

Jet lag is almost all gone now but recovery time is longer when you age. Used to be I needed 2 nights sleep and a bubble bath and I was good to go. Now I need a whole week, a doctor, drugs and a tire pump. Sucks to get old but hey, it's a privilege denied too many.


Would I do this trip again. No. Not like this. Too stressful and exhausting. 


Am I glad I did it? Damn straight! Absolutely. Saw, felt and shared SO much and was able to check off major items on my Bucket List and make lasting memories that our daughter will cherish her entire life, long after we are gone from this world.


Even with all the reckless whole-hog eating and drinking I did, I lost 5 pounds on this trip by walking, lugging and subway stair climbing…and THAT, my friends, makes me pretty damn happy. *And yes, I am willfully forgetting the part of me being sick. No sense ruining a good last line…


RANDOM PICTURES: *grab a drink and some munchies....

                                       Inside the Cologne Cathedral in Germany
  
                                                        A better look: 

                                              Outside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

                                                A youtube look up-close:

                      A close-up of the hands of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert


                             Lord Know's Whose thumb...in Koblenz, Germany

Koblenz, a 2000 year old city, is my DHs hometown and beautiful. Come have a look:

                                                  Katja climbed to the top ...
                                     
As a former dental assistant with an abscessed tooth, this closed dental office was a target for my shoe and a few carefully chosen rocks. Which I didn't throw. Really
                                
                               In Rome: I used all 3: stamps, toilet, coffee bar             

                                A Sassenach in Cologne, Germany! LOL!

                                            Katja enveloped by the Pope...

            The magnificent Cathedral in Cologne: my neck hurt looking up so long

                        German Transit Train (Katja snoozing against the window...)

                                                         Brussels Stop
  
    Our new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, making the front cover in Belgium...

                           Yes. We had a Häagen-Dazs right in front of our hotel!

                                                             British Humor

                                            So much theatre everywhere!

          National Portrait Gallery beauty: I could have stayed a week JUST there!

                                          Mind boggling detail and skill...

                          Princes William and Harry on canvas. Great pic and very large!

                                                     Elizabeth I


                                       


                    A little youtube tour as my video is too long to download:
                        
                                       The Virgin Mary with us in our hotel in Rome

                 The Marksburg Castle in Germany. The view from our bedroom!

                                                 Goodbye Brussels from the train

                                                  London at Christmas
                                 
                                               Lots of street singers:

This man was brilliant. "you dont know me'. *sorry for the bad film job. I was digging for money to give him and trying to take a pic at the same time. Duh. *I put it on Youtube so I could share it with you:


                                             I added a proper caption.... LOL!

                  My fave statue: Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. So in love....

 Scotland in London: an Outlander moment *I put this on youtube as well so I could download and share

                                                        My Embassy!

 An example of how statues were painted way back when in Rome, not as we see them today.... (in the Vatican)

            Leicester Square, London: a Bobbie watches over my ice cream store

                                          I want to go back to school...




                                                           The London Eye


                                                              Old world pub charm

                                                   The Pope and St. Peter, my DH

                                                          A German Swan

                                                      Westminster Abbey



                 Hyde Park Squirrel nibbling on 'chips', what we call French Fries

                                              Hyde Park Winter Wonderland


Not sure why, but they had Halloween themed rides etc....in their carnival?

                                         ummm...okay...Merry Christmas...

                            Jingle Bells, skelton smells, please don't die today....
                      
                                           A British Swan in Hyde Park

                                                                   Tower of London




     Become a Knight!! Digital mirror adds a helmet and title to your reflection...fun!

                                                   Crown Jewels Guarded

                                         Fun to watch kids mimic the Guards


                                           The Marlborough Arms Pub decor

                                      The Marksburg Castle in Germany

                    BOPPARD!! My dream retirement town in Germany: next 8 pics



                                                          Hansel and Gretel 






                                In Cologne Germany: our beer came with tradition!


                                   
                                                  St Peters Square: Rome

                                Roman fountain (I was the Canadian Fountain)

                              Hyde Park View: I could feel myself on that plane....

                                          Queen Victoria: National Portrait Gallery
   
                                      Leaving for home from Heathrow

Hello British Columbia! Canada: home of the BEST and FRESHEST air in the world! My lungs were singing with happiness....

HOPE YOU ENJOYED THE BLOG (if I messed up here and there, I will change it later...too damned tired today) NOW LET ME GO REST FOR A WH...zzzzzzzzzzzzzz