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Mountaintop to sea level: Girovaga’s 2018 Euro-trip

4 May
4 May 2018.
When the weather is miserable travel planning can be a great escape. At any given time, I have three or four European itineraries rattling around in my head and usually one of them has moved beyond theoretical and into reality. This year our theme is Mountaintops, Lakes, and Seashore. We will visit 4 mountain areas, 2 lakes, and the Ligurian sea. Purtroppo, we won’t be going until late summer.
I’ve spent a fair amount of energy in planning, securing lodging, researching hikes, and just yesterday I started making train reservations so as to get the super economy fares where possible. (I love every minute of the pre-trip tasks.)
Here’s what we have planned.
Having learned our lessons last year during The Grand Tour, we are not going to hop all over the continent. Our modus operandi now is longer stays in fewer places. This trip we will confine ourselves to Northern Italy and Switzerland with a tiny stop in Austria.
In a nutshell, here is our route: Milano – Ortisei – Innsbruck – Pontresina – Lauterbrunnen – Stresa – Camogli – Lausanne over the course of seven weeks. No cars, no planes, just trains. 
Milano is a city we’ve visited many times and while there are not any major sites we plan to see, it will be a buffer between a long Transatlantic flight and our train-plus-taxi to Ortisei, a journey of about four hours. We like Milano and have a favorite hotel there, the Hotel Berna. Alas, the Berna’s prices are sky-high due to a Gran Prix event so we will be staying across the street at the oft-recommended-to-me Hotel Garda. Nothing fancy, but (I am told) comfortable. We’ll recover from jet lag, buy SIMs for our phones, enjoy browsing, and perhaps take in a special art installation. After Milan, there will be no large cities this trip.

The last time we spent the night in Milano was in December 2015. Expect it to be much warmer when we arrive end-of-August.

Ortisei is, of course, our favorite place in Italy. This will be our seventh year there and eighth visit overall. Can’t wait to see our hosts Justine & Siegfried, visit our favorite shops and restaurants, and hike to the rifugi all over the Val Gardena. We will stay in the apartment we occupied in 2016 and 2017 and use this opportunity to update and add to our book, “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena.”  We are planning to add a couple hikes to the book as certainly we will try something new in addition to repeating the hikes and riding the lifts we love.

One of my favorite views in the Alpe di Siusi. We will surely hike here and update our book.

I was in Innsbruck in 1972 but Ric has never been. I remember it being quite lovely and it makes for a convenient break in the otherwise long journey by train to Pontresina in Switzerland. Just passing two nights here.
Pontresina is near St. Moritz and is purported to be a good base for easy-hiking so we will spend a week. We’ve found a darling apartment overlooking the route of the Glacier Express and a lively river. Can’t lose with lodging overlooking a train line in Switzerland.
From Pontresina, we head to Lauterbrunnen via the famous Glacier Express. The Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Jungfrau Region offers an incredible combination of transportation and easy-hiking. It is, so far, our favorite area in Switzerland. This will be our fifth visit. It vies with Ortisei for favorite mountain locale, but the food is better in Italy.

On the hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidigg, above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. There was snow at high elevation in October.

If Disney wanted to invent a new attraction, they could not accomplish anything more fantastic than the Swiss have already done in the Jungfrau Region. Train to 11,333 feet? Check! Thirty-minute gondola ride in complete silence through a stunning landscape? Check! Behind-the-scenes at a James Bond’s mountaintop location with a revolving restaurant? Check! Seventy-two waterfalls in 9 kilometers? Check! We have a favorite apartment here, too, and fall brings reasonable rates, pleasant weather, and fewer tourists.

This is the view from “our” apartment in Lauterbrunnen: Staubach Falls and  a small herd of cows as well.

Then we are back in Italy, stopping at Stresa on Lago Maggiore for three nights followed by Camogli, Italy, for six nights. Stresa makes a nice place to break up a long transfer (with several changes-of-trains) to Liguria. Stresa has been on my list for years and promises not only some light mountain hiking but lakeside strolls and island hopping.
Camogli is our seaside destination. We have not been to Liguria since 2014 and our previous four visits we always stayed in the Cinque Terre. I am hoping Camogli will be a little less frenetic and allow us to experience a different part of Liguria. I am so looking forward to Ligurian cuisine! Alici marinate (marinated anchovies) are the best in Liguria most likely because they are caught nearby and fresh as can be, marinated with local lemons. Then there is pesto pasta, focaccia, and almost anything they do with a fish.
Finally, we will wrap up with a week in Lausanne, Switzerland. Several trains are required for this transfer, which is a bit kludgy, but we like a train day. Since we pack light, it’s not too difficult. Lausanne is featured in so many books and movies — especially stories of intrigue — that it has been on my list for years. We look forward to exploring Lake Geneva, the vineyards, castles, etc. It should be a rather low-key end to a long trip. We will fly out of Geneva, a mere hour by train from Lausanne.
Have you been to any of these places? What are your insights? Favorite restaurants, sights, hikes, or tours?
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Reading list

9 Jan
15 January 2018
My dear friend Jonnie Martin reads cerebral books. If she recommends a book to me I know it will be not only well-written but a lot of work to read. She calls then “chewy” reads.
Books are an escape for me and while I love to read, I do not read enough. There are too many distractions out there. When I do read, I do not like it to be too much work, so my reading list for 2017 is more pedestrian than Jonnie’s. I am not, however, a reader of graphic novels nor bodice-rippers. (Although the Outlander series remains one of my all-time favorites and I anxiously await Book #9).
I averaged 2.3 books per month in 2017 and a total of some 12,000 pages according to www.GoodReads.com. That number does not include the various travel books and guides I consumed for trip planning and execution, and I read hundreds if not thousands of pages in these books. Nor does it include books I disliked and did not read to completion. I have no tolerance for being bored by a book and will delete it from my Kindle if the first 50-to-100 pages do not satisfy me.
It is fun to look back and see what attracted my attention. My favorite genre is historical fiction and this was my year of WWII novels. I am drawn to books about WWII whether fiction or non-fiction. Something about that era entrances me and the “unknown” stories that have come to light in the past decade-or-so amaze me.
My favorite book of that period was a work of historical fiction, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. It is the story of an unsung civilian hero. Set in Italy under Nazi occupation one would almost believe this was the stuff of an over-active imagination, a story filled with betrayal, love, crime, death, family, faith, encounters with historical characters, and so much pure luck. I dislike calling it fiction as it is based on a true story corroborated by the protagonist and historical research done by Sullivan. Do yourself a favor and read it before the movie comes out.
Other WWII-era books I read:
“The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure– Malcolm Gladwell recommended this book which interested me. It is a good story, although some of the dialogue is a bit contrived. A wealthy industrialist hires an architect, who has little empathy for Jews, to construct foolproof hiding places where Jews can be safe during searches. It is a moving and dramatic tale of heroism during the occupation of Paris. 
“The Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly – Another story inspired by a real person, a woman this time. The Lilac Girls tells the intersecting stories of a New York socialite, a Nazi doctor, and a Polish teenager. It is a story of WWII horrors but also of altruism and justice.
“The Orphan’s Tale” by Pam Jenoff – A Dutch runaway, a traveling circus, high wire artists, and a boxcar full of infants. Jews were sometimes hidden as performers in circuses. Yeah, I didn’t know that either. While not specifically a true story, but is based on true elements cobbled together in a story that is ultimately about chances taken, bravery, and human bonds.
“The Women in the Castle” by Jessica Shattuck – This is another tale of intertwined lives and strong women in post-war Germany. The three protagonists come from different walks of life but have survived the war. Their efforts to find a way forward result in saving one another. This book comes from a very different viewpoint given its post-war setting in Germany and female perspective.
“The Girl from Venice” – I have not read a Martin Cruz Smith book in years. I am so happy I found this one. The story is set in the waning days of WWII. This thriller/mystery/romance/historical fiction work features vivid characters and a seldom-described culture of fisherman in the Venetian Lagoon. Gripping.
“In Farleigh Field” by Rhys Bowen – With a dead paratrooper, MI5, the aristocracy, spies, traitors, and Bletchley Park, this mystery moves along briskly demanding little from the reader but delivering a good read.
I am not sure where my reading will go in 2018. I am in love with downloading samples from Amazon, where I can read a few pages and see if I like the book rather than spending $11.99 only to discard the book after 50 pages. Right now I have eight samples to read so we’ll see how many make it to purchase.
What are you reading? What was your favorite book of 2017?

Christmas memories

18 Dec
18 December 2017
It’s been fully seven years since we last spent Christmas in our own home in the U.S. As I decorated the house, purchased gifts, and wrapped the presents, I have been reflecting on prior Christmases from when I was a child, from young adulthood, and over the 33 Christmases that Ric and I have been together.

My first Christmas, 1953, pictured with my big brother, Rick, and our dachshund, Peter, at Grandma & Grandpa’s house.

My earliest memories of Christmas are from about 1957 or 1958. Before that, I have only photos to tell me a little about our holidays.  What I do remember vividly: tangerines in the toes of our stockings (whoever thought that was what a kid wanted to find?); a flocked tree with silver & gold decorations (very modern! 1960?); tinsel on Grandma’s tree; an eggnog and cookie sugar high on Christmas morning while we opened presents; my parents’ insane tradition of inviting a few dozen friends and neighbors for a Christmas Day breakfast buffet of Swedish pancakes and sausage. I am certain my mother hated that stress and workload, but Dad was a real entertainer. Perhaps one reason their marriage failed eventually.

Also from 1953, my first visit to Santa at about age 10 months with brother Rick.

Swedish traditions ran through our celebrations. Our grandparents were all born in Sweden so their foods were the building blocks of the Christmas Eve feast. Swedish sausage, rutmus (a questionable concoction of rutabagas and mashed potatoes), sometimes the vile lutefisk, always limpa rye bread. And those lovely, delicate Swedish pancakes along with julekaka on Christmas morning.
My mother used to make dozens of complicated and delicate cookies every year. Several nights during the season she would come home from work and spend hours over such delicacies as sandbakkelse, pepparkakor, krumkake, rosettes, fattigman, and spritz, as well as Mexican Wedding cookies. All were stored in boxes in the hall closet which we dared not touch without permission. They were for Christmas, not before! We were only allowed to eat the broken and less-than-perfect specimens.

Classic family picture, probably for the Christmas card, in 1964. Brother Rick, sister Nancy, and me. And another flocked tree!

I cannot make many of these cookies. I never mastered the delicate touch required for Sandbakkelse or pepparkakor and my spritz took on demented forms although I can turn out a decent krumkake. Mom would be appalled to find that IKEA sells a pepparkakor to rival hers, albeit without the tiny almond slivers.
For many years I made limpa and julekaka but that has faded away except for the odd year I make these breads as house gifts. (Invite me over and I just might bless you with one!)
Some years our decorations were extensive and some not. Once I wrapped several large framed pieces of art with Christmas red foil wrap and white ribbon. One year I used fabric as gift wrap. My Martha Stewart moments. By contrast, when we were waiting for our house to be built, living in a temporary apartment with three cats and a gigantic collie, all of our Christmas stuff was in storage as our house was supposed to be ready by early December. Apartment bound, we had an evergreen in a pot on our patio that we strung with lights and a single red candle on the mantle.

That’s me, front-and-center, with the 1970 Santa Lucia candidates at out Swedish Lutheran church, Gustavus Adolphus.

For many years there was a nativity, but eventually, so few pieces remained unbroken it was discarded. When Derek was little he liked to hang “Herk” on the roof of the manger shed. You know, “Herk, the herald angel” from the carol.
The church was a big part of the holidays until we became rather “unchurched” (Lapsed Lutheran here). 11:00 pm services on Christmas Eve, Sunday School pageants, choir concerts, and Advent wreaths. In 1970 I was a candidate for the Lucia Queen at our Swedish Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Didn’t get crowned, though. Mom said, “They gave it to the rich girl.”
Many holiday seasons were spent working in retail, which can ruin Christmas for you if you aren’t careful. My high school and college jobs were in retail but luckily back then stores were not open extended hours like today. We still closed at 21:00 and Sundays were Noon-17:00. When Ric and I had a retail store, it was so overwhelming at Christmas that I barely remember having a tree one year.

Derek, 1977. So sweet!

Then there was the year we almost killed Mom. Our mother worked hard as a nurse for 44 years. Often she was stuck working Christmas Eve or Day. One year she was quite unhappy because my brother and his wife were not going to be able to travel to St. Paul for the holiday. After work on Christmas Eve, she was invited to my house after so she could be a guest and not the hostess. She came in from the cold Minnesota evening, her glasses fogging up, and much to her surprise my brother bellowed out “Merry Christmas.” She dropped everything she had in her hands and burst into tears. I thought she was going to keel over from the surprise. That was a good Christmas.
Our entire family lived in Minnesota when I was a child and young adult but eventually dispersed as careers and marriages took my siblings, cousins, and me to other states. Inevitably we would forget who-was-where for what holiday. My mom and I would argue about where we were the prior Christmas or Thanksgiving, and we would forget who-gave-what-to-whom as a gift. In order to stop the arguments short in 1980 I started keeping a holiday journal with all the relevant details. Many years I have whipped out that journal to solve a dispute or remind myself what had happened.
As youngsters and up until I was 30, we always gathered with our maternal cousins for the big holidays. Some years there were 15-20 people and no one had a very big house. Everyone brought part of the dinner so no one had to do everything. I remember a lot of fun, warm, wonderful gatherings as our cousins were practically siblings to us.

Ric’s sister and her family invaded Omaha for the holiday in 1985. We still talk about how much fun we had!

In the 33 years Ric and I have been together the cast of characters at the table have changed. Parents and my sister have passed away, cousins live far away. Our Oregon years have seen gatherings of friends and neighbors as well as a few holidays we spent alone by choice at the coast.
Our time in Rome was a huge change. We often traveled over Christmas enjoying winter wandern in the mountains or holiday lights in Paris and London. Last year we were freeloading at Derek’s while house hunting but enjoyed a traditional holiday in Durango, CO, with my brother and sister-in-law. A very white and merry holiday indeed!

Christmas Eve 2008, >8 inches of snow kept everyone from leaving the ‘hood.

On the other hand, Christmas 2008 sticks in memory due to the horrific weather we endured for a week. Day-after-day it snowed, cars got stuck, the airport shut down, offices closed. Living at 750 feet above sea level, my car was frozen to the driveway for eight days. I spent six hours getting home from work via public transportation on the 23rd. Our friends could not get to us for Christmas festivities and our neighbors could not leave the ‘hood. We pooled our resources, with Scott bringing 2 magnums of fine Australian Syrah while Ric, Derek, and I cooked a beef short-rib dinner. The weather was awful and inconvenient but we relish the memories of that holiday.
Bone-chilling cold is also a memory of Minnesota Christmases. For several years I held an open house on the Sunday before Christmas and I remember one year that it was so cold that when we got home from church that morning the toilets did not function. I am not certain how I got them working. Luck, I guess, because the party went on. One year I got drunk on Swedish glogg at my own open house. Heating it up does not really kill the alcohol. My sister poured me into bed and did all the cleanup.

Santa takes his dinner break at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Milano in 2015.

Bless all of you who plan ahead and send out hand-addressed Christmas cards every year. It is a tradition that I have let slip completely. I have embraced e-cards, which I know do not offer the same personal connection. I remember my mom, when not laboring over her cookie hoard, spending evenings sitting at a card table in the living room writing notes in cards, addressing them by hand, and carefully recording in her book who she had sent a card to and who she received them from. If she did not get a card from someone for two-or-three years, she dropped them from her list. Does anyone do that anymore? Track the giving and receiving of cards?

Ric and I at a mountain rifugio above Italy’s Val Gardena for Christmas Eve lunch.

Oh, so many more things come to mind as I write this! My Barbie Dream House from Santa in 1962; Going to our favorite Grandma’s on Orange Street in St. Paul with all of the cousins (how did we all fit in that tiny one-bathroom house?); Rushing home from church on Christmas Eve 1968 for the Apollo 8 moon orbit; Derek’s delight at receiving a rocking horse when he was a toddler; Traipsing around eastern Nebraska and western Iowa seeking a u-cut Christmas tree, finding none and ultimately buying one at the YMCA in Omaha; Pickled herring, sylta (headcheese), and Bond Öst for our Christmas Eve Swedish antipasto; Walking on an Oregon beach with frost on the sand; An Italian all-fish dinner on La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) at Antica Taverna in Roma; Hiking across the Alpe di Siusi on Christmas Day.

 

Preparing lunch for Epiphany in our embassy-provided apartment in Rome. Epiphany is a BIG DEAL in Italy.

Most of all, I like to remember being surrounded by family and friends, whether as a little tyke in Minnesota, or all those years gathered ‘round the (various) tables we set in Portland. The traditions may change, the location too, but the Christmas feeling is there with the ones we love.
Merry Christmas everybody!

Our 2017 tree in our new home in Lincoln City. Our first big tree since 2010.

 

Changes afoot

15 Dec
15 December 2017.
GoodDayRome is now Girovaga.  About time since we left Roma over a year ago. 
Girovaga is an Italian adjective, feminine form, meaning wandering. It can also be a noun meaning itinerant or wanderer. In its verb form, girovagare, the meaning is “to wander about.” That, hopefully, is fitting. 
All of the old posts, beginning in May 2012, are preserved so our five years of Italian living and traveling are documented. In the year since we returned to the U.S., I have blogged occasionally about life here as well as some of our travels, and that is what I will continue to do.
Some posts will be whatever crosses my mind. Others will be about travels near-and-far. 
If you are a subscriber to GoodDayRome, my new posts will still hit your mailbox but with the Girovaga title. I hope you’ll keep on reading along and sending me your comments. 
A dopo!

Lessons Learned

21 Nov
19 November 2017.
No matter how many trips we take, we learn something new to apply to the next adventure. Just last week I learned I should have a packing list even going to Portland for two nights as I managed to pack the car and forgot to bring a jacket. In Oregon. In November. Hello, Columbia store! I did get a nice, new winter coat out of it.
Lesson 1: Packing
Packing is always a work-in-progress. I was very pleased with how much I managed to fit in my suitcase and keep the weight reasonable at about 22 pounds. For an eight-week trip I had 2 blouses, 2 long sleeved tees, 3 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one black pant, a lightweight cotton pullover sweater, khaki jacket, cardigan, jammies & undies. [See: It Fits.] One of the tees died in the first two weeks and I had to buy a fleece in Munich because I was sick of being cold. That heavy fleece made for some packing challenges as we moved on. And I found myself grabbing the same blouse, one L/S tee, and my two remaining SS tees over-and-over. I wished I’d had another cardigan instead of the khaki jacket. So, next trip, I already have a revised packing plan.

My wardrobe is about layering: 2 blouses, 2 long-sleeved tees, 2 short sleeved tees, 2 jeans, one pullover sweater, khaki jacket, jammies & undies. Wear on the plane: black stretchy pants, tee, & lightweight jacket.

My intentions were to class up my act and wear make-up more often. I wore make-up daily from the age of 13 to 62, so in retirement I seldom put it on. This trip was no different. Next time a little CC cream and mascara and nothing more for “dress up.”
We did take trekking sticks and were so happy we did. Definitely worthwhile and they do not weigh much.
Lesson 2: It’s OK to ship
We don’t buy too much when we travel, but I did acquire some nice table linens in Ortisei. Along with the fleece I bought in Munich and the one Ric bought in Ortisei when he hit a level of cold intolerance, the linens pushed us over-the-top and we had to break out the packable duffle. Ric had to schlepp that thing to Venezia and again to Assisi, along with his roller bag and day pack. Luckily it only weighed about 10 pounds. In Assisi we took the Umbrian oil we had purchased at a farm, the no-longer-needed trekking sticks, and the acquired linens to Mailboxes, Etc. Yes, it was pricey, but well worth getting rid of any weight we could since we still had a month of travel ahead of us. [See: Assisi is more than San Francesco for our shipping adventure.]

Not the stairs we had in London, but this staircase at Palazzo Braschi in Roma is rather dramatic, don’t you think?

Lesson 3: Check for stairs
We decided a few of years ago that we would no longer climb more than one floor with luggage. I think it was specifically during a trip to in 2014 when we had a place on the 4th floor (5th American) in Porto Santo Stefano. [See: By the sea.] It’s one thing to walk up-and-down without luggage, but if there is not an elevator we no longer stay where we have to walk up more than one flight with luggage.
Our last trip threw us two curves.
In Paris, the description for our “apartment on the 5th floor with elevator” did not mention the elevator was for one person at a time! Whenever we returned from an outing (three or four times a day) we had to take turns going up one at a time. It was no problem to walk down, but up five flights (6th floor American) was a bit much along with walking 7 to 10 miles per day.

This was our elevator in Roma when we lived there. It is HUGE compared to what we had in Paris this year.

In London I had reserved an apartment in a modernized building with an elevator. We stayed in the same apartment in 2015 and knew what we were getting. However, the landlord had to switch us to a different property [See: Wrapping up the Grand Tour.] when a problem caused by another vacation rental caused the condo board to change the rules. The new apartment was lovely except for the entry stairs (steep and narrow with a shallow tread) and the apartment stairs (twisting spiral with grab bars) which made it an adventure every time we exited or entered. It was only 37 steps, but it felt like exercising in the gym.
Always ask about the stairs.
Lesson 4: Never go more than 4 nights without having a kitchen
We made a last-minute change in our itinerary and instead of a week in an apartment in Roma, we spent 4 nights in a 5-star hotel in Pesaro and 3 nights in a B&B in Bra. Both places were enjoyable, although remarkably different, but what we missed was being able to dine in. We were forced to go to restaurants. That gets old. When we changed plans I should have worked harder to find an apartment in one or the other.
Lesson 5: Minimum one-week stays
It is not practical to spend a week everywhere. I would kill myself if I had to spend a week in Paestum, for example, as we found two nights too long there. [See: We have time.] We enjoyed getting to see Pesaro and Bra, but one-week stays might have been a bit much without a car. Still, we moved around too much in our eight weeks. We will endeavor on our future trips to pick bases and stay at least a week even if it means renting a car to take better advantage of the base. That would have been a good solution in Le Marche as well as Piemonte, had we stayed in one or the other for a full week.
Lessons learned in past travels
Long ago we adopted the practice of using a taxi upon arrival if our digs are not within a 10-15 minute walk of the station. We cling to this practice to make arrivals and departures less stressful.
Cooking (simple meals) while traveling is highly desirable. It saves money, but also calories and sanity. Restaurants get old and it is tiresome to have to find one every single night. In some countries it is damn hard to get enough fresh vegetables in a day. We relish having an apartment with even a miniscule kitchen so we are not forced into restaurant food for every meal. Salads and pasta are favorite limited-ingredient meals when we are traveling.

My brother and sister-in-law flank my favorite Roman tour guide, Sonia Tavoletta.

We use guides or guided tours to make the most of our time. We had only one day in Munich so having a guide was a perfect choice. A guide is also valuable to help with complicated sites (Pompeii, the Louvre, the Foro Romano) or to give the tour guide (me) a break. We used London Walks for the latter this trip and have used Paris Walks as well. Worth every centissimo or pence.
Feel free to skip something or change plans if our energy or interest level is just not there. We planned to go to Hampton Court Palace while in London, but we had been very busy and when I got down to the details of planning for the day trip, it was going to cost £75 for the train to-and-from and entry to the site even with a 2-for-1 deal. That and the better part of the day. We found our interest level in the site for that much money did not equate so we stayed in London and enjoyed other sights.
Sometimes we take a day off when we are traveling. Just do something little – maybe simply shopping and lunch – and then relax with a book or a movie and do the laundry. It is not a crime to do so. It is not a waste of time. It is “living local.”
Time to plan another trip! It remains to be seen if I can follow all of my own rules.
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