The “Waaa-mbulance” has Left the Station

I’d like to announce that the week of no whining has commenced (with a nod to little Lily via Claire on “Modern Family” for today’s title)! Yep, happy Monday to you, too! What, might you ask, has provoked such an unheard-of week??!! The weather, of course. The whole week, with not even one single little tiny moment below freezing! No hat on today’s adventure out and about, and I was a-ok. I’m not quite breaking out the sundresses, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the thought of flip flops hasn’t crossed my mind…

Before I get overly carried away with all of that, however, I wanted to share with you the rest of our adventure “to the north.” (hehe… I think that is more than a little ironic… me, talking about traveling roughly around 2 hours to go to the north; I also am not really sure that I think of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn, or Aachen as really being “north,” but when we decided to head out to northern Germany, we ended up there. We will, however, be making the rounds of what is truly northern Germany at some point, but the weather in this pseudo-northern part of Germany was so inclimate that we were a bit hankered to begin with!)

We left Köln on Saturday morning (after enjoying a really delicious breakfast at our hotel) and headed first to Düsseldorf. I’d looked up the main things to see in each of the towns we’d planned to visit before we left, so we had a brief list of places to see in town. They were mostly pedestrian shopping area, so I guess we got what we were looking for! Based on my very limited impression, it looks like the primary occupation of Düsseldorfians is shopping! Rock on, my friends, rock on… However, we were not on a shopping mission, so… after a little while, it was off to Bonn for us!

Johanniskirche

Johanniskirche

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we thought this was pretty neat, the way the clock integrates into the building…

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Although the river set against the snowy banks is attractive enough to warrant a picture, what really caught my eye is the sheep herd scattered all along the river’s edge…

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looking back towards the Platz, you can see some of the festivities set up for Karneval – ferris wheel and everything!

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Very quaint development (is that the right word when you are talking about something that looks downright historical) along the river. You might also notice the young man (wearing a blue coat) in the middle of a rectangle cleared of snow. He’d created a small area within which he was happily skateboarding and singing. That, my friends, is fun for everyone!

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This one I just couldn’t figure out… Sailboat… in the middle of frozen water… the frozen water? hemmed in by bricks on every side (the would-be water area is really about as large as you can see here!). Where would you boat to??

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headstands are fun, even if you are made of metal.

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A lot of buildings have these metal things screwed into their sides (for support). We saw a lot a lot of this in Venice, but we’ve seen it all around Germany, too. I thought that this building is in the running for the nicest decorative use of these supports (including the date of the building’s construction, 1627). The “Madonna” you see at the bottom? It’s the name of a store…

We took the train from Düsseldorf to Bonn. Around halfway there, our train ended its route. Everyone on the train was *urged* to exit the train. In our case, this task of *urging* was undertaken by a gang of 10-12 year old boys who felt that screaming at everyone was the most effective means of communication. We didn’t get it. I’ll be honest. We sat on the train with a small amount of confusion for a little while (while being screamed at in German with words we didn’t know), but I am also proud to say that we were definitely not the last ones off the train, either. I’m not sure if the train schedule had recently changed, or if there are some trains along that path between the two cities at that time of day that complete the journey without interruption, but there were a lot of people who were very upset standing on the platform in the middle of nowhere. I’ve started listening to what other people are saying a lot more than I used to, and let’s just say that that 45 minutes was filled with many, many “Scheiße” utterances (although not quite as many as during the soccer game that we watched in the pub yesterday afternoon).

After losing feeling in my fingers, toes, and nose (a little whine from the past, I acknowledge), we were finally back on the train to Bonn. I was really, really sorry for the delay (and not just because of the cold) when we got there because it was already starting to get a little dusky, so we weren’t able to do everything that I wanted to do (a little more past-tense whining). Bonn was a lovely town, however, and we could easily discern the lingering influence of the French occupation of the area. As the former capital of West Germany and for nine years, the capital of the re-united German, Bonn has served (and continues to serve) as a key city in the governing and business of the country. In order to honor that (even though it isn’t the capital anymore), it is known as the Bundesstadt of Deutscheland (aka, federal city of Germany). Its known history dates back to the 11th century BC as a settlement area, and the fort that was built there by the Roman Army is, to date, the largest remaining fort of its kind (via Wikipedia). Bonn was also not devastated (architecturally) during the War, so it has a real old-time feel to it.

Bonn Minster, a papal Bascilica that is one of Germany's oldest churches.

The Doll’s King! You can see some of the Bonn Minster, a gorgeous old church in the background.

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The house of the master, aka the house that Ludwig von Beethoven (1770) was born in. Lovely old museum…

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the historic Town Hall

On Sunday morning, we got up (a little extra early because of the el-crapola weather) and drove up to Aachen.We’d actually been to Aachen once before, on an ill-fated trip to find the Dreilandespunt (the intersection of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Deutschland. Needless to say, the previous attempt failed, and we’d since learned that there is not only a Starbucks in Aachen, but that they had their own mugs. So… a hunting we did go. This time, we found both the Dreilandespunt and the Starbucks with nearly no ado! And as it turns out, Aachen is a really cool town with a really cool history! Aachen, the most western town in Germany, was originally and primarily a spa town, and then became the favorite place for Charlemagne to live (and I’m guessing it would be fair to say that he could have been kind of choosy). Aachen (and its Cathedral) was also the location of the coronation of the Kings of Germany after Charlemagne. They kind of fell out of power for a while up there in Aachen, and there wasn’t much news coming from them. However, in WWII, Aachen was the first German town to be captured by the Allies (and according to Wikipedia, Aachenites welcomed their liberators), and the story gets better from there. The Allies appointed a mayor, who was then assassinated by SS troops (a squad that included at least two women!) after parachuting into nearby Belgium from a plane that they’d captured (it was one of the men who supposedly pulled the trigger, however). Now, Aachen leads a little less dramatic existence, being known primarily for their science, engineering, and scholarly endeavors.

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A wee bit of the Aachen Cathedral, built by Charlemagne in 786. He can still be seen there today!

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a view near the Dreilandespunt, featuring the 3 neighboring flags. I thought that the view was lovely, and that the random lawn chair was hilarious…

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This is the point at which the Netherlands and Germany intersect.

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The German side of the point that marks where Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany meet. There is something about this little pile of concrete that seems to have strange effect on humans: children and adults alike feel compelled to run around this pole with a manic look on their faces. It happened to me. I’ll bet it would happen to you…

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The lookout point nearest the Dreislandespunt. It was closed… Cold weather isn’t any fun…

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This even cooler lookout point (which was also closed) was a couple hundred meters away from the Point.

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a winter wonderland in all directions!

Ciao, y’all! Hope you all had a great weekend!

 

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

I was the first person off the plane in Atlanta and the first person off the plane in Frankfurt. For very different reasons, I assure you (one borne of the urgency for things to be ok and one of convenience), but nonetheless, I think that being the first person on an escalator or in a corridor helped me to notice things a little more clearly. When I landed in Atlanta, I found that even the stale, probably nasty airport air just smelled more like home. That and the fact that you can stand even kind of close to any given stranger without being overcome with smoke. One of the first things I noticed upon landing in Frankfurt is that the majority of escalators here are of the super-skinny variety. And… it is really cold here. I knew that already, of course, but… I’ve been here for 8 days already, and I haven’t seen the first day where the temperature broke freezing. In contrast, the last 8 days I was in Atlanta was filled with the likes of 60s and 70+ degree high temperatures. Even the super-efficient Germans haven’t been able to keep up with de-icing/snowing the sidewalks around town. In spite of it all, though, life keeps moving; honestly, this is as much of a culture-shock ingredient as anything else I’ve known, given my lifetime spent in the South, where the mere mention of snow or ice ensures a run on bread and milk at the grocery stores and may even prompt pre-emptive school closings.

Although this was probably illustrated to mock what I've known of winter, it does ring more than a little true...

Although this was probably illustrated to mock what I’ve known of winter, it does ring more than a little true…

On the plus side, though, being here feels more like being at home than it did in any of the 3+ months I was in Germany before my trip back to Atlanta. I was always aware of a sense of watching myself live life in Germany in those first months, but now I am just doing it. I’m not sure what that’s about, but it is definitely more comfortable to not constantly be having a slightly out-of-body experience! Also (and more importantly) on the plus side is being back in the same time zone (and living space) as my sweet husband (who has no idea of what it means to clean an apartment, although perhaps I even love this about him, although I wouldn’t ever want to seem as though I were encouraging it). In any case, although it was wonderful and awful to be home in Atlanta, and I do hope to return under less stressful circumstances in the near-ish future, it is also really good to be home in Aschaffenburg.

we've crossed one other mug off the list, but as you can see, we have a lot of adventures demanded by this list yet to be completed!

we’ve crossed one other mug off the list, but as you can see, we have a lot of adventures demanded by this list yet to be completed!

Of course, almost immediately upon getting home to Aschaffenburg, we left on an adventure! Ever since our foiled attempt to go to Cologne for the Christmas markets at the very beginning of December, I have had a HUGE hankering to go there (prior to that 1st attempt, it had been a “oh, that seems like a nice place to go” kind of desire), so we put that at the top of the list. I should also mention that we have become, obsessed? extremely goal-oriented? fixated? oh, let’s just say we are *interested* in collecting mugs from all of the various Starbucks in Germany that have a local mug (see the list above…). 🙂 So… our little trip to Köln warranted side trips to Düsseldorf, Bonn, and Aachen, as well! For today, though, I will stick to showing you the parts of Cologne we experienced (beyond the Starbucks…)!

One thing about being in Germany this time of year, besides the cold:  They take their Karnivale celebrations SERIOUSLY. We saw all kinds of costumes (and they are also pretty intense, but I never had the guts to randomly take a picture of someone in their gear).

One thing about being in Germany this time of year, besides the cold: They take their Karnivale celebrations SERIOUSLY. We saw all kinds of costumes (and they are also pretty intense, but I never had the guts to randomly take a picture of someone in their gear).

I thought that this was hilarious... Why wait to be "Forever 21" when you can be "Forever 18?!"

I thought that this was hilarious… Why wait to be “Forever 21” when you can be “Forever 18?!”

Local legend has it that the citizens of Köln didn't have to do any work because all the little people did it while they slept! I'd build a statue to that, too!

Local legend has it that the citizens of Köln didn’t have to do any work because all the little people did it while they slept! I’d build a statue to that, too!

The Cathedral (Dom in German). I really am at a loss to describe how grand this is. It is tremendous... It is also Germany's most visited site (per Wikipedia). It was originally started in the 1200s, and was completed (after taking a few centuries off from their construction) in the 1880s. It was beat up but not killed in WWII, and I'll bet if those walls could talk, they'd have a story to tell!

The Cathedral (Dom in German). I really am at a loss to describe how grand this is. It is tremendous… It is also Germany’s most visited site (per Wikipedia). It was originally started in the 1200s, and was completed (after taking a few centuries off from their construction) in the 1880s. It was beat up but not killed in WWII, and I’ll bet if those walls could talk, they’d have a story to tell!

Another view of the Kölner Dom, whose official name is Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus.

Another view of the Kölner Dom, whose official name is Hohe Domkirche St. Petrus.

detail above one of the entranceways.

detail above one of the entranceway.

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I thought this was so far beyond gorgeous... It is the newest window in the Dom, having been installed in 2007 as a replacement for a window that was a casualty of war. Interestingly, the cathedral's archbishop refused to attend the dedication of the window in protest because he wanted a window design to reflect 20th century Catholic martyrs.

I thought this was so far beyond gorgeous… It is the newest window in the Dom, having been installed in 2007 as a replacement for a window that was a casualty of war. Interestingly, the cathedral’s archbishop refused to attend the dedication of the window in protest because he wanted a window design to reflect 20th century Catholic martyrs.

From the back looking up towards the altar.

From the back looking up towards the altar.

one last shot of the exterior..

one last shot of the exterior..

as seen along the Hohenzollern bridge in Köln.

as seen along the Hohenzollern bridge in Köln.

vista with the Hohenzollern Bridge and the cathedral in the background.

vista with the Hohenzollern Bridge and the cathedral in the background.

the architecture here is rather curious, indeed. Certainly eye-catching!

the architecture here is rather curious, indeed. Certainly eye-catching!

We ascended to the top of the Köln Turm for views such as this.

We ascended to the top of the Köln Turm for views such as this.

along the train station... very cool silhouette...

along the train station… very cool silhouette…

It was a very cool welcome-back-to-Germany kind of trip! I hope you enjoyed this little slice of it…

23 Days

Hello! Happy New Year!

Do you want to guess what I did today? Go ahead, guess (I did several things, actually, so the odds aren’t totally against you!)!

Yes, I did walk outside (without measurable discomfort) without a coat (and it has been days since I wore gloves), but that isn’t what I’m getting at.

Ok, ok, I also had pancakes (which were wonderful and required no shenanigans from me).

Give up? Fine, I’ll tell you! 🙂 I drove to the grocery store (without fear for my life upon starting forward motion from a stop due to my still-developing manual shifting skills) ON A SUNDAY (just because I could, not because I want people to have to work seven days a week). And, in addition to pulling a shopping buggy from the corral (which is conveniently located INDOORS) without inserting a coin and having someone bag my groceries (I did bring my own bag, just because I could) and offer me assistance to my car (I declined, as it was ONLY 1 BAG (can you believe they even offered?!), I made a right on red turn on the way home! Unheard of (and illegal) in Germany… Not only all of that, but on the radio? When the Lumineers went off (love them), Taylor Swift crooned me home. 2 songs, both within the last decade!

No, I haven’t found the paradise of grocery-stores in Aschaffenburg; I am still at “home” in Atlanta, where I have been for the last 23 days. It has been a weird 23 days, and I’m not entirely sure of how many more days I’ll be here, nor can I be happy about the reason that I have been here, but I am (now) enjoying being at “home.”  Even when I was struggling to keep my head above water (days 3-19), there are definite perks associated with being home. In addition to seeing and hearing from all kinds of people (near and far) who are important to me and more importantly to my sister, spending time with my family, and (I’m just going to say it; I hope it isn’t tacky to put on this list) not wearing a coat in January, I also got to visit with my best friend from (even before) junior and high school! She is one of those people who makes me feel more like me just by being in her presence. I will always be glad that Laura had her heart fixed and at the perfect time for her body (not a minute too soon), but… I’m also glad that it happened when Kelly and her family would be passing through. Definitely a highlight of my year, not just my trip! And… I got to reconnect with a few of my other friends from way-way back, too, which put the icing on a cake that I didn’t even remember the recipe for.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

~C.S. Lewis is credited with this quotation, but it is almost the verbatim account of the moment that Kelly and I became friends, all the way back in 1986. We are different in every possible way that doesn’t matter), and alike in most of the rest.

My own heart (which has no holes that I know of; although I am truly tempted to march myself down to the nearest echocardiogram machine to be sure) is so warm from the love and support and fun that friends offer. I spent a lot of time yesterday with another of those makes-me-feel-more-real kinds of friends, and another only 3 evenings ago, and I am already making plans for later this week. It is as though my head has been refilled and re-tuned through my time living abroad, and my soul has re-learned to appreciate (not just enjoy) the amazing beauty of friendship. I know that the written word is completely inept at capturing how much we need each other in this world, whether we are suffering or rejoicing, but I couldn’t resist the urge to post about it. With each email, text, Facebook post, meal, and invitation, I have heard:

“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”
― Charles M. Schulz

It has been, among many other things, truly beautiful. I’ve loved it, even as I hated it. The only real complaint (and that is nowhere close to the right word) I have (even more than the day that the holiday cups disappeared from Starbucks; I actually saw them go away, there one minute, gone the next) is that my love is 4617 (+ or -) miles away. I know… I’m getting tragic. Let me not get tragic.

Downton Abbey is back on tonight (and I can watch it in real-time!) and I’m  fixin'(*)  to eat hummus (I haven’t seen the likes of hummus or tahini in Germany yet, so I’ll happily indulge here while the gettin’ is good!)! Laura is doing much, much better, and is laughing more than she is furrowing her eyebrows. Her insurance (BCBS) has even gone out of their way to be nice to her (the cynic in me says so far, but so far is better than nothing!)! Life is good. Happy New Year, indeed…

Captured by my sweetie from our apartment in Germany (I was asleep by 8:30pm here in the US) as the year turned 2013 in Europe.

Captured by my sweetie from our apartment in Germany (I was asleep by 8:30pm here in the US) as the year turned 2013 in Europe.

* Southernisms used for stylistic effect (in this case only), not for any unintended modeling effects.

A Christmas Carol

There are plans, and then there are PLANS. Our Christmas plans fell into the latter category. One of our first learning experiences about Germany was that they do Christmas in a bigger way than even we holiday-frenzied Americans were used to. The exact phrase that has been used to describe it is “Christmas on steroids.”

We planned to kick the advent season off in fine style by heading to Köln (aka Cologne) for the opening of the Christmas markets with some lovely friends who are living in England. Christmas markets are one of the most distinctive aspects of Christmas in Germany. Basically, every town holds a Christmas festival, complete with vendors selling their gift-wares, decorations, food, and drink, and there seems to be a common theme of some children’s activities (ferris wheels, train rides, etc.), as well. Some of the markets are bigger (and badder) than others, and the ones in Köln are supposed to be pretty over-the-top (that’s right, they don’t just have one Christmas market, they have SIX, each with a different theme and focus). I suppose we could have taken our first clue that this Christmas season was going to be a wee bit different than we’d planned when we had to scrap that plan because both Mike and I ended up capital S-sick. Boo. So… we visited the local market in Aschaffenburg the next week and a good time was had by all.

I had to break out the über-serious ski jacket to deal with all of this coldness.

I had to break out the über-serious ski jacket to deal with all of this coldness. It was still pretty intense. 4 layers under that coat, and still, that’s the best facial expression I could come up with. That fear you see in my eyes? It was real. And no, I really couldn’t get my arms to lay any closer to my body. I may as well have turned around and stuck my tongue to that pole there on the right…

Downtown Aschaffenburg, snowy and alit.

Downtown Aschaffenburg, snowy and alit.

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The entrance to the Market… Decorated with toy soldiers, lights, garlands… they had it going on!

Weinachtsmarkt=Christmas market in German.

Weinachtsmarkt=Christmas market in German.

A giant German pyramid.

A giant German pyramid.

A miniature train that kids could ride on, set up to go around a town like Aschaffenburg. Very cute!

A miniature train (named the “El Paso;” I really couldn’t even begin to speculate on that…) which kids ride on, set up to go around a town like a Christmas-ized Aschaffenburg. Very cute!

Ferris wheels and tasty treats ensure that everyone stays in a merry mood.

Ferris wheels and tasty treats ensure that everyone stays in a merry mood.

A broader view of the market... Picturesque!

A broader view of the market… Picturesque!

The castle, nestled in snow and firs. So beautiful!

The castle, nestled in snow and firs. So beautiful!
The river scene, as the sun is almost done setting. Very wintery, very pretty, and it was very windy as we took that picture.

The river scene, as the sun is almost done setting. Very wintry, very pretty, and it was very windy as we took that picture.

I missed a grand opportunity for a picture when we went to get our Tannenbaum… we bought it from a guy selling trees in a small space a few blocks away, and then Mike carried the tree all the way down the street on his shoulder! We take the whole vintage trend very seriously, and definitely lived it on that one. Of course, we also didn’t bring Christmas decorations with us from Atlanta, so I (who don’t have a crafty bone in my body, really) got busy making Christmas decorations. It was a spectacle, to be sure…

On this fine day, we also had no hot water, which meant no heat, which meant that any excuse to have the oven on was a welcomed one!

On this fine day, we also had no hot water, which meant no heat, which meant that any excuse to have the oven on was a welcomed one!

It's a start!

It’s a start!

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1 of 4 trays of ornaments (I did remember, on 3 of the 4 trays, to cut a hole for hanging)…

Notice the exquisite application of the glitter...

Notice the exquisite application of the glitter…

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And the detail-work of the facial expression… (not to mention the careful alignment of the buttons)

Such a creative use of stripes on this fine rocking horse...

Such a creative use of stripes on this fine rocking horse… (not to mention that lovely glitter!)

It turned out rather lovely, though, all things considered.

It turned out rather lovely, though, all things considered.

We also had grand plans for a cross-Germany tour when my family came for the holidays. They planned to arrive the week before Christmas, and we were going to head South and then East and go to Heidelberg, Nürmberg, and Berlin, hitting the Christmas markets and cool sites along the way. Instead, both Mike and I are back here in Atlanta, gathering around a Christmas tree that we bought for 30% off because it was getting down to the bottom of the tree barrel (but really, how many people can say that they’ve bought and decorated live trees on two continents in one season?). The most important thing about the Christmas season, though, is that it reminds us that we are waiting. Instead of focusing on waiting on arrivals and departures at the airport, or train schedules, or tour arrangements, we are eagerly awaiting the time that we will all be together in whatever feels most like home. As it turns out, that isn’t going to be in Germany this year. Nothing against Germany, fair readers, but… My sister, (who I now will say was saved both by Bon Jovi. I won’t even say that Bon Jovi may have played a part in this anymore, I am certain of it; many of the complications she’s had stem from the fact that her body was sick of working with defective equipment, and I can not bear to think of what it would have been like for her had this not been taken care of when it was, and that was definitely due to Bon Jovi and a whole lot of divine intervention) and by Travis the Terrific, which is a story for another day), is still recovering from her open-heart surgery to repair the hole in her heart in the ICU at the same hospital she and I were both born at. It is nice, in a way, to think that the hospital that saw her into the world is the same place that is giving her a second chance at the next 35+ years. Instead of waking up and opening presents, our Christmas Day is more like all of the other days in Advent; we sit and wait, first in the waiting room, then in the ICU area with her, waiting, biding time, for her to emerge with new life and vigor and the joie de vivre that is just underneath the surface. I’m thinking it is going to be a grand Epiphany…

I do hope that you and yours are close, and that you have had a very peaceful day, filled with love and family and hope. And, “God bless us every one.”

 

The One About How Bon Jovi May Have Saved My Sister’s Life

Part 1:  Background

At some point in most developing relationships, there will come a time when folks will ask each other about their respective families. If you and I have reached that point in our relationship, chances are good that you know that I have a younger sister, who, among other things, has a nearly unquenchable passion for all things Bon Jovi. She will do things in the name of her fandom for Bon Jovi that you and I might consider extreme, even. As a for instance, she once purchased a chair from a venue in Hawaii (yes, she went to Hawaii, primarily for Bon Jovi, not the beaches or scenery or history or any of the reasons that most people dream of going to Hawaii) and had it shipped home, all because the last concert performed in this venue was one highlighted by… you guessed it… Bon Jovi.  She has waited in countless line (in all kinds of weather), flown thousands and thousands of miles, connected with people she never would have met, even quit jobs in the name of Bon Jovi. Chances are also good that if you have heard of my sister’s passion for Bon Jovi, you will have also met with my reaction to such devotion. It hasn’t been positive. I now get a twitch in my eye whenever I hear music by Bon Jovi because of how much it has dominated her life. Read on, and learn how I came to promise that I will never say another deriding comment about her fandom, how I will promise to never get that look that passes over my face whenever the conversation turns to Laura’s most recent escapades with this show or that show again.

Part 2:  More Background

If you know Laura well, in addition to (undoubtedly) knowing of her love of Bon Jovi, you probably also know that she has a long, long history of never quite feeling 100%. She used to insist, in fact, that she needed a stomach transplant. Also, it is my belief that in recent years, she may have single-handedly driven up the demand for Motrin (for complaints ranging from headaches to the infamous stomach aches to just about anything else) in such a way that if you are stockholder, I would consider selling in the very near-term. Given all of this, when she started experiencing shortness of breath a few years ago, especially when out for a walk, none of us got very excited about it. Just add it to the list of things that aren’t quite right, but probably aren’t very wrong, either. I assumed that it was some sort of combination of being not-in-shape and perhaps some exercise-induced asthma. It was a pain in the rear, but… what do you do? (Laura would probably say grab a Motrin and cool off) She started having weird rashes on her feet and legs, not to mention her toenail issues (both of which she went to the dermatologist for, but never really got relief nor an answer for). Who would have ever guessed, outside of a certain Dr. House, that all of these on-going ailments would be related? Certainly not I.

Meanwhile, Laura has become a nanny for a (very cute) little girl who has a certain joie de vivre, as little girls are prone to have, who may have also played a key role in this story. In addition to providing the relationship out of which Laura has become more financially independent and gained insurance, this little girl also has a penchant for letting Laura know how important Laura is to her through imitation. And, when a little cherub starts imitating your coughing and wheezing, I guess that’s when you start to pay attention…

Part 3: The Concert that Could Have Ended All Concerts

And… we’re back to Bon Jovi. It will surprise no one that if Laura hears of a concert, it will at least cross her mind to find a way to attend it. However, if she can also attend said concert at very little expense to herself? She’s there. In this case, there was L.A. Laura found a contest that she entered and won, providing her with access to 2nd row (!!!) tickets to a Bon Jovi concert in the ever-lovely Los Angeles. So, she flew out there a couple of weeks ago and met up with a fellow Bon Jovi fan to go to the concert. They fairly ran into the venue, which triggered one of Laura’s breathing “episodes” (which have been getting worse), and to her friend’s credit, her friend thought that this deserved a little extra attention and called the venue’s medics. Said medics felt that Laura was in pretty bad shape, and encouraged her to go to the hospital immediately. “Pish posh,” said Laura. “I have a Bon Jovi concert to go to here! I’ve got priorities!” Apparently, a good time was had by all (Laura would add that this is true of every Bon Jovi concert that has ever taken place, but this was certainly not an exception to that rule). Laura flew home (imagine what that altitude must do to someone with breathing issues!), but, as a result of this concert, finally agreed to see a doctor. Hopefully, she would emerge with an inhaler in hand and be ready to fly to Germany to visit Mike and I for Christmas. Haha. Hahahaha. (By the way, she said that the concert was pretty awesome. Rock on, Bon Jovi, rock on.) As it turns out (and I really just can’t resist this one, but I will apologize for it), she was “Living on a Prayer.”

Part 4: Our Hero, Dr. Michaelson

Laura’s insurance allowed her to make an appointment directly with a specialist (rather than requiring a referral), so after consulting with the list pulmonary doctors on the BCBS website, in combination with a handy-dandy Google Maps address check (to make sure that she, who also has no sense of direction WHATSOEVER, would be able to find said doctor), she made an appointment with Dr. Michaelson. She picked him based on geography and because, interestingly enough, she wanted a youngish doctor. (I am not going to say that I understand this criteria, but whatever… it worked.) It was decided that my father would go with her to the appointment (probably for geographical assistance as much as anything else), and this past Tuesday (which was a lovely day, I’m sure) they headed to the appointment. After a short time in his office with Laura, Dr. Michaelson rounded up my father and informed them that Laura was not going to pass go, she was not going to collect $200, she was going directly to the hospital. Laura’s oxygen levels were in the 70s (normal is around 95, and below 90 is considered “very low,” causing alarm bells to ring on LLs oxygen meter at the hospital). Laura, with her aforementioned priorities, had a small fit (according to Daddy); hospitalization was, of course, most inconvenient given that she had plans to go to Germany for Christmas. Couldn’t he do whatever he wanted to do another time??? ummm. NO. Now. With plans to run several tests, she was admitted to Piedmont Hospital. However, it was a busy time and they had to wait for a room to become available. With her ever-present value on vanity/hygiene, Laura was able to convince the admissions folks that she would be best served by their permission to go home and take a shower and do her hair. So… she didn’t actually do anything at the hospital except get registered until after she had properly washed her hair and shaved her legs. A girl has to do what a girl has to do…

They got busy on the tests pretty quickly, and she had all kinds of eee’s done (EKG, ECG, E-LMNOP), a sonogram of her heart, a pulmonary function test, etc. etc. The sonogram was apparently the most illuminating, and the doctor scheduled a cardiac cath done for Thursday morning. Fortunately, he is one of a handful of pulmonary doctors who is qualified to do that test, and it helps a lot to have a good relationship with the person who is all up in your business. Another reason he is a hero to me is that after determining that her pulmonary condition was fine, he could have released her and said, “as far as I can tell, you are doing A-OK.” Fortunately, he is of the sort who can put 2 and 2 together, even when the 2s don’t come from the same pile. The cath procedure, in addition to being relatively traumatic because of a certain betadine confusion, was also significantly invasive and required multiple shots of morphine. And it revealed that Laura’s heart was anything but ship-shape. The cath showed the doctor that LL’s heart was as enlarged as it could be, and that there was a lot of blood that wasn’t getting out of the heart in a timely way. He diagnosed her with Eisenmenger’s Syndrome and ordered an MRI to determine how large the hole in her heart was in order to determine the most effective way to treat her. There was concern that the pulmonary arteries leaving her heart may be damaged beyond the ability to withstand the surgery. Fortunately, her arteries were alright, but the bad news was that the hole in her heart was so large that the previously hoped for kind of surgery was no longer an option. Open-heart surgery would be needed to close the hole. And that, my friends, was beyond the scope of Dr. Michaelson’s expertise. We were so grateful that he had been there along the way, but as any good professional, he knew when to say when. He began assembling her cardiac team (which will apparently also include at least one specialist from Emory) to evaluate the surgical options.

Part 5: Where we are today

The last part of this information – the part about the diagnosis and the open-heart nature of her surgery – became available fairly late in the day on Thursday (after 2pm for the diagnosis, after 5pm for the surgery), which was very late in the day in Germany (add 6 hours). After midnight on Thursday, I decided that I really didn’t have a decision to make:  I had to go home to Atlanta. My sister was having her heart operated on, after all. It is CHRISTMAS, after all. There was no choice to make. Except where to fly from. I listed myself for the flight (thanks again, Daddy, for putting up with working in the airlines for as long as you did; we sure do enjoy the benefits now!) from Stuttgart (about 2.5 hours away from Aschaffenburg), Googled train schedules, and packed for a trip of undetermined length, all after midnight. I am NOT a late-night person, people, so this is pretty darn late. At almost 2am, knowing that I had to be up again at 4am to begin my long journey back to Atlanta, I crawled into bed.

Of course, my head was still spinning (and not just from tiredness). Heart this, surgery that, Atlanta, WHAT? And all I could hear was a metallic tick, tock, tick, tock… UH OH. Did I have a heart condition, too? Laura’s issue is congenital, and is often hereditary… Oh man. Tick, tock, tick, tock… I would have sworn that my (obviously defective) heart was beating in my ear! I tossed, I turned, I worried. AND THEN? I remembered. Mike had been given a new Swatch watch on his trip to Switzerland that had been driving me crazy with its ticking earlier in the day (it is strange how selective my deafness can be)… and after hearing me complain about it, he thought it would be funny to put it under my pillow. I absolutely lost it at that point. 2:30 in the morning, and I came completely undone.

Fortunately, if that was the end of my rope, I was able to tie a knot. Everything worked from that point on. I did sleep (for about an hour), the trains to Stuttgart went flawlessly, and I was able to get on the plane back to Atlanta (in business class, no less). I was starving when we landed (boo on you, Delta, for not having a vegetarian option for the pre-arrival meal), and stopped at the CNN store in the International Terminal in the airport. While debating pretzels vs. granola bar, I tuned into the radio they had over their speakers. I thought, “wow. That sounds like Obama. Crying. What on Earth is going on?” I almost wish that I hadn’t asked the store clerks, because I wish I didn’t have to know what happened in Connecticut yesterday. It was almost too much for me. As for many people, I’m sure. Between my headache (ach! Do I have a heart disease that is causing this, too?!?), my hunger, and my anxiety, this news just made me sit down in the middle of the airport and cry for a minute. And then I got myself together and walked out like the big sister who is supposed to be strong and together.

I walked outside (with only a light jacket!!!), and very soon, my Daddy showed up to pick me up (we even rolled the window down occasionally on the drive!!)! Hallelujah! I am really home!! We went straight to the hospital, where Laura was holding court with one of the wonderful visitors from the church we grew up in. I can’t tell you how good it was to see that… Just writing it makes my eyes water.

There are still many unknowns, though, for me to be comfortable. Another group from the cardiac team and someone from the thoracic team still has to evaluate things before the surgery can be scheduled (though we are still hoping that everything is on-track for Monday). The doctor who has visited today indicates that the hole in her heart is in an unusual place, but we don’t know what that means… She has been started on Revatio (aka Viagra for those of you in the know) to help her heart muscle work more effectively (between her old-lady oxygen and her taking Viagra, the potential jokes are almost endless; let’s agree, shall we, that we won’t make them until there is enough time for it to actually be funny?), which has started causing nose bleeds. She’s worried about the scar, and a little miffed that the whole thing is happening to her (and causing her to miss out on yet another trip to Germany (when we were both in High School, we were supposed to go to Germany, but the government accidentally sent her old passport back to us instead of her new passport, and we didn’t get the new passport in time. We ended up having a lovely trip to northern California instead, but let’s be honest, that just isn’t the same as a European adventure)). Mostly though, she is doing alright. And really, that is A-OK with me.

What have I learned so far?

1. DO NOT, EVER, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES put a ticking watch under an emotionally fragile person’s pillow when they are already sleep deprived. It will not go well for you.

2. Living in another country is really cool, right up until you have a family member who isn’t well. Then? It kind of sucks.

3. God is beyond my ability to conceive. I knew that already, but this has brought it into sharp resolution. His timing, provision, healing, and peace do, indeed, pass understanding. He has brought the right people (from the highly skilled doctors to the tech who transported her (sharing his own story of recovery from a diagnosis like her’s) to her tests to the maid (who overhearing what the doctor said about the hole in her heart being too large for the “easy” surgery who came in to pray with my family)) to her at the right time. I may not ever understand why all this is happening (not that I need to), but I do know that Laura is in His care and His love and it is something that He is doing for His glory. And that is ok with me.

4. I promise, never ever will I roll my eyes when Laura tells me that her stomach hurts, or that her head hurts, or that her legs itch, or that she can’t make it up the hill without resting, or or or… It is all legitimate from here on out. Next time you have a complaint, I’m taking it seriously! I’m going to be a hypochondriac’s best friend… 🙂

5. Despite any previous remarks as to the impact of Bon Jovi fandom on my sister’s life, I will never say another negative thing about it (and, even more than that, I am sorry that I ever said anything). Had Laura not won that contest to go to that concert and then almost not be able to see the very thing that she loves so much, she may not have made an appointment in time (again, see #3). The doctor said that she probably didn’t even have 6 more months left had she not gotten this treatment. Bring on the Viagra! Bon Jovi totally rocks!

While not Bon Jovi, I wanted to share this lovely little nugget that the whole business with Laura has put on my mind lately…

How could I pass up a little Extreme “Hole Hearted?” That’s right! I couldn’t…

Things I Miss + Rome Days 2 and 3

Hi, Y’all!

How is it going for you? I hope you are well and happy (bonus points if you are reading this while drinking hot chocolate or something along those lines)… Me, you ask? I am a-ok. Mike is traveling for work (he’s in Switzerland, calling it “work.” Rrriiiiggghhhhtttt. Whatever you say, sweetie), but I have my ever-present friend, a book, to keep me company (I’m now reading “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain and I LOVE IT. Perhaps I’ll review it for you later, but I’m 52% through with it now and am feeling empowered and understood in a way that makes me want to quietly encourage you to also read this book). I’m going to have to figure out how many books I’ve read this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve set a personal record, or at least a record since my Nancy Drew-reading days (I devoured those, sometime over and over again). And, of course, I have my trusty blog! 🙂

I’ve been a little slack on updating y’all on the comings and goings around here, haven’t I? I am sorry about that, but more for me than for you, if I’m being honest! I don’t really think that your day changes all that much depending on whether I post a blog entry or not, but I do enjoy writing these, and my day is better when I post than when I don’t because I feel more organized in my own thoughts when I have written a little bit. I used to keep a journal, and perhaps I should re-start that for myself. After all, I don’t think that you really want to read everything that I want to write… Trust me. Sometimes, the things that I think about? Usually not terribly risqué, but… Like I said, you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Since I last posted, and I am being serious here… Mike actually spent time thinking about posting. It is progress that we are looking for here, and progress we have! I’m afraid it won’t be a fashion post (although, really, who better than Mike to write-up a lovely little piece on Swiss fashions?), but keep those positive vibes heading his way! It really is starting to work!

In any case, before I finish posting pictures from our lovely “Roman Holiday,” I thought I’d share with you a couple of things that I really miss from home. They probably aren’t what you would expect (and I’m assuming that it is a given that my family (including Kramer) and friends are at the top of any list of “I Miss…”, and that is absolutely true. If I know you, I miss you. I miss seeing familiar faces – living in a small town like good ole ATL, you know, you start to feel a little bit like you know people. I’m for real here. I would see familiar faces everywhere, and the people I know well enough to know some dirt on? You know I miss you! (I’m kidding, here. I don’t miss knowing ‘dirt’ on folks, but I do often love even what you might think is your ‘dirt.’ It’s part of really knowing someone to know some of that stuff…). But anyway, there are a lot of things that I don’t love that I still miss, and I thought I’d share them with you. 🙂

For instance, I miss shopping carts where there is some sort of reasonable chance I might be able to steer the sucker, even after there is some weight in them. The buggies here? Their wheels (all 4 of them) turn 360 degrees. This means that they always want to go sideways. ALWAYS. I feel some consolation when I see some other poor soul struggling with their buggy while trying to navigate the parking lot, knowing that it isn’t just me (and then I feel bad about having someone else’s struggle helping me to feel better), but seriously… I miss you normal-Publix-shopping cart.

You know what else I miss, speaking of Publix? If you go to a grocery store in Atlanta (and I believe that this is true America-wide), chances are pretty good that not only will someone bag the items you purchase, but they will at least offer (even if it is clear from their facial expression that they want no part of leaving their happily-climate-controlled-environment for the wild and wonderful outdoors) to help you to your car with your bags. Here? It is strictly bag-it-yourself. I am QUITE sure that it has never crossed the mind of any staff member at my local Edeka (which I do like, as grocery stores go, don’t get me wrong) to help anyone to their car with their things. The instant that someone here offers to help me to my car? That is the instant that we’ll all know that the Mayans were right, after all. Let me tell you, though, it is stressful to try to get all of the items I’m purchasing in my (brought from home grocery bags, lest I have to purchase new ones as there is no such thing as a free bag at the grocery store) bags before the cashier is through ringing me up, all the while staying hyper-alert, just waiting for her to begin a barrage of German (which I am not likely to understand much of) telling me what I owe (or perhaps chastising me for failing to weigh some produce item, asking me if I have a punch card, or any number of other similar emergencies that seem to arise when I’m checking out of the grocery store).

While I’m on a grocery-store kick? I’m going to throw in having to put a coin in to get a buggy, a buggy that is always parked in a hangar outside the store in the middle of the parking log, so I forget to get it until I’ve actually picked something up. Then I have to put the bananas (always the first thing I pick up) back, go outside (insert nearly freezing to death and perceived close calls with pneumonia), remember that I have to put a coin in to get my buggy, take off the gloves that I just put back on so that I can walk outside without getting frostbite, find a coin (hopefully; each and every time I need a buggy, I just know that I will have just dumped out all of the coins that have accumulated in my wallet), and begin the wrangling with the four wheels that always want to go sideways).

Now, for something a little less-grocery-store related! I really miss going into the bathroom and THEN turning on the light. Occasionally, I still forget to turn the light on before I enter the room (the switch is outside our bathroom in the kitchen). You make think that this is a minor annoyance (and in truth, it really is; I am ABSOLUTELY aware of how “1st world” this list of I-Miss is), but… I am a very light (er, no pun intended) sleeper, and this means that it is impossible to shut the door before turning on the light (read, before Mike can turn on the light) or to turn the light off before opening the door. Sigh… Even at the hotels we’ve stayed in, this has been the way of things. I don’t get it! WHY, EUROPE? WHY? I do feel like there may be a well-meaning or seemingly logical reason for this (especially since it is so widespread), but it is completely lost on me.

Alrighty. Enough of that! Now – on to some pictures of Italy! (aka one of the last days that I didn’t see snow!)

On our 2nd full day in Rome, we started by climbing the steps at their Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Great view, pretty magnificent monument...

On our 2nd full day in Rome, we started by climbing the steps at their Tomb of the Unknown soldier. Great view, pretty magnificent monument…

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See that sky? Isn’t it the prettiest color blue? Un-edited, folks. That’s 100% natural. I just love a blue sky. I miss it, too. A solid 98% of December thus far has been gray here in the ‘burg.

As we walked towards the Coliseum...

As we walked towards the Colosseum…

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Palatine Hill area, as we walked towards the Colosseum. Did you know that this hill (one of the central parts of ancient Rome, overlooking the Forum) is the word from which what we know as “palace” comes from? Or, if you are French, “palais?” Or, if you are Italian, “palazzo?” Pretty cool… I love that stuff…

The Colosseum, the largest elliptical ampitheater built in ancient Rome. It was originally called the Flavian Ampitheater after the name of a couple of the emperors who had it built.

The Colosseum, the largest elliptical amphitheater built in ancient Rome. It was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater after the name of a couple of the emperors who had it built.

Inside the Colosseum... In addition to it's more famous uses (gladitorial contests and animal hunts, most gruesomely), did you know that in the medieval times, it was used for housing, workshops, a religious order, a fortress, and a religious shrine? Yeah, me either...

Inside the Colosseum… In addition to it’s more famous uses (gladiatorial contests and animal hunts, most gruesomely), did you know that in the medieval times, it was used for housing, workshops, a religious order, a fortress, and a religious shrine? Yeah, me either…

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What you see just beneath the seating area is a recreated stage. Under the stage, there were elaborate pulleys and trap doors to raise and lower the featured gladiators and animals used in the productions. It was, indeed, a feat of engineering!

Circus Maximus: chariot arena and entertainment venue, Roman-style!

Circus Maximus: chariot arena and entertainment venue, Roman-style!

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Domus Flavia (The Flavian Palace on Palatine Hill). This area is where Roman legend says that Romulus and Remus were found and raised by the she-wolf.

Remains of one of the buildings at the Roman Forum.

Remains of one of the buildings at the Roman Forum.

Villa Borghese, one of the best museums I've ever gone to...

The Aviary at Villa Borghese, one of the best museums I’ve ever gone to… We went there on Friday, our last full day in Rome. Sniff, sniff. Seriously, though, I’d never heard of the Villa Borghese until I started researching for this trip, but if you are ever in Rome, I’d say it is a must-do!

The gardens at the Villa Borhese... they were under renovation/restoration while we were there, but it was obvious that they were magnificent!

The gardens at the Villa Borghese… they were under renovation/restoration while we were there, but it was obvious that they were magnificent!

Another scene from the gardens...

Another scene from the gardens… (it made me want a lemon tree!)

Our last night in Rome, we toured the Trastevere area and the Jewish Ghetto. This bridge took us there, but I'm going to save those pictures for another time...

Our last night in Rome, we toured the Trastevere area and the Jewish Ghetto. This bridge took us there, but I’m going to save those pictures for another time…

The Day That Would Have Overwhelmed a Lesser Camera

Hi Y’all! I am happy to report that after several near death moments, I am no longer convinced that I am in fact, sure to die, of my germiness (or the medication given for my germiness; that stuff is ROUGH). I’m not yet willing to rule it out, but I no longer count it as inevitable. I even managed to not go back to bed after taking a shower this morning. Sadly, this is also related to the loss of our “living room bed.” At some point (time has lost all meaning for me in the last week and a half) Mike moved his side of the bed (we have 2 individual mattresses within one wooden frame) into the living room (probably for his own comfort, not mine, but…), and I began to see it as my daily accomplishment to move from the bedroom bed aalllll the way to the living room bed (probably not more than 10 or 15 feet). But, Mike took the living room bed away, and remarkably, I’ve stayed alive (and out of bed).

I am, however, obviously still delusional. I thought, “I’ll just go through those pictures from Rome and type that blog up all nice and pretty today.” Ummm, yeah. About that? WE HAVE SO MANY PICTURES FROM ROME! I’ve gone through over 600 already. And you know what? I made it through our first full day in Rome. (And, that was the day we were at the Vatican, and there were lots of parts that we couldn’t even take pictures of! EEK!!)

We took the High-speed train from Venice to Roma, and that was a fun little adventure all on it’s own. Taking the train is more fun than I had imagined before living here. And taking the train in Italy is more attractive than anywhere else I’ve ever taken the train. Double win!

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We arrived in Rome in mid-afternoon, and hiked to our hotel. This was also a novel experience for us as late… Not because we aren’t used to walking, though (believe me, we’ve got that one covered!)… It was so warm, I actually began to glisten! YES! Believe you me, I have NEVER been so happy to be hot in all of my life (and you may never hear it again, but I was happy to take it while I could).

After settling into our hotel (also known as dumping our bags, grabbing a snack, and leaving), we figured out that there were a few things on my list of things to do that were open late enough for us to enjoy. We headed off to the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini), which was a perfect opening to our time in Rome. The Capitoline Hill is one of the seven famous hills of Rome, and it was the citadel of the earliest Romans. The museums include buildings designed by Michelangelo and houses works and archeological remains as far back as the 17th Century B.C.! WAY back! It really was pretty darn impressive, if I do say so myself. I found myself tremendously humbled while we were in Venice with respect to my art knowledge. I am obviously rather ignorant when it comes to art, even of the masters. I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of this museum, though, until I started looking into what we “should” see while we were in the Eternal city… It really is almost embarrassing. You’ll love me anyway, right? 🙂

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In the middle of Piazza del Campidoglio. The rider on the horse? Marcus Aurelius. This is a replica – the original is in the museum.

Walking up the Capitoline Hill

Walking up the Capitoline Hill

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Just inside, where you can buy your tickets. Take a gander at the Roman feet!

 

The next day, our first full day in Roma, was the one I’d been most excited about. The Vatican Museums (SISTINE CHAPEL)! I’d arranged for us to take a guided tour of the Vatican Museums (13 museums in 14 different palaces, and the museums just celebrated their 500th anniversary), and that may have been the best decision I’ve ever made, honestly. We really liked our tour guide! Bruno forever! Seriously, when I grow up? I want to be as smart as he is. He kept the pace interesting, and told us all kinds of back story and history, all while making it relevant to us. He obviously loves the place, and it rubbed off. It was completely incredible. The popes, y’all? They live large and in charge. (Or at least they used to; we didn’t hear any wild and crazy stories about the more recent popes, but back in the day? Jeez.) And the Venetians sure aren’t the only looters in Italy. We learned about how this pope had a thing for animals, and that pope had a thing for maps, and the other pope had a thing for Ancient Egypt. Seriously, it has been said that these museums have most of the important masterpieces from the Renaissance, and I can’t argue with that.

The double helix staircase... it was even cooler in person.

The double helix staircase… it was even cooler in person.

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As we began our tour of the Vatican museums. 🙂

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Bruno was quick to point out the similarity of many Roman landmarks to those we, as Americans, are certain to be familiar with…

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The ceiling of one of the rooms in the Vatican… sigh… suddenly, a discussion of flat or popcorn seems inadequate.

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Another Vatican ceiling…

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There is another wing that mirrors this one, and it was designed to look like arms giving a hug. Isn’t that friendly?

We saw the Swiss Guards (and got to see the changing of the guard), and then entered St. Peter’s Basilica. Have you been there? It is incredible. It is the 2nd tallest dome in the world (apparently, they built one in Africa 2 m higher just to have the distinction), and it is gorgeous. Words really can’t even begin to describe it.

Swiss Guards marching along...

Swiss Guards marching along… (not the crispest photo, but they were there and gone so quickly that it was a challenge to get set up for!)

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Inside St. Peter's

Inside St. Peter’s

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Under the dome

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As if all of that wasn’t enough, Bruno also offered us his (handy dandy) guide to food in Rome. Seriously? Yes, yes please. After we had that, we never looked back (although should we ever find ourselves in Roma again, you can bet your sweet bippie that we will be taking his guided tour of food in Roma!)! I would highly recommend it, in case I haven’t been clear on that… 🙂

After Bruno left us (sniff, sniff) at the end of our tour, we climbed all the way up to the top of St. Peter’s. One of the stair cases was so small – literally the wall begins to lean into you so you have to walk tilted towards the center – that the only thing that they had room to use as a support is a piece of rope. It was… interesting. We climbed and climbed and climbed (and this was after taking the elevator up 5 stories), but it was totally worth it. Such a view! (I kind of wished, though, that there was a giant slide that we could have taken from the top. I guess that probably wouldn’t have fit with the whole vibe they had going there, but it would have been pretty awesome.)

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Doesn’t this almost look like it must be a model? I promise, real deal!

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After that, we went to the Piazza Popolo:

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And to the Spanish Steps:

Those steps are not the Spanish steps, but they are in the area…

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It is amazing to me how full of life Roma is. People were just hanging out, enjoying the sun. I don’t blame them a bit!

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Bernini’s Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat) sits at the base of the steps.

The Scalinita (the Steps) are the widest in Europe, built to link the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Trinità dei Monti church.

The Scalinita (the Steps) are the widest in Europe, built to link the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Trinità dei Monti church.

And to the Trevi Fountain:

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We really couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the summer time…

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The Trevi Fountain (literally, the fountain at the 3 roads). The largest baroque fountain in Rome... and, of course, La Dolce Vita!

The Trevi Fountain (literally, the fountain at the 3 roads). The largest baroque fountain in Rome… and, of course, La Dolce Vita!

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And of course, you can’t go to Italy without having some gelato!

 

I'm sticking with the legend that says that tossing a coin in the fountain means you are guaranteed a return trip to Rome!

I’m sticking with the legend that says that tossing a coin in the fountain means you are guaranteed a return trip to Rome!

And to the Pantheon:

The exterior of the building was pretty incredible, too. It has been said that people aren't sure if this building could be built today. It is an incredible feat of engineering and construction.

The exterior of the building was pretty incredible, too. It has been said that people aren’t sure if this building could be built today. It is an incredible feat of engineering and construction.

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The world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

And to the Piazza Navona:

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another day, another Bernini… sigh.

Piazza Navona is marked by 3 fountains and a whole lot of liveliness...

Piazza Navona is marked by 3 fountains and a whole lot of liveliness…

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It was a busy, and wonderful day! I hope your’s is too!

 

The Story of How I Coughed My Way Out of a Ticket, and a Roma Preview

As I pointed out in my last post, Mike was pretty darn sick when we returned from our grand trip. In fact, he is still lounging on the couch as I write (although he is feeling much better). I suppose it was bound to happen that I, too, would fall prey to the nasty bacteria that felled him, but I refused to buy into this inevitability. Unfortunately, all the oil-pulling (I’m telling you, I was really desperate to not get sick), Sudafed-popping, Rote-Lampe-ing, apple cider shooting, and hand washing I did failed me. So sad. My paranoia that I was getting sick led me to go to the doctor that Mike went to in order to get something a little more scientific than all of my symptom management techniques. I think that Mike had started to feel a little stir-crazy, because he offered to drive me. Last time, I drove him and parked in the first spot I saw and that was that. This time, there wasn’t a spot directly in front (as there was last time, and Mike had to push a trash can out-of-the-way to enter the spot. Upon doing that, we noted that there was an Automat, as in you pay for your parking. So… Mike dropped me off to run in to make an appointment, and turned around. The very kind receptionist asked me if I would like to see the doctor right away… YES. Not only did she arrange for me to see the doctor so quickly, she remembered that I was with Mike and remembered his name without any prompting from me! I was super impressed. It’s not like they aren’t busy – they really are. In both visits, I never saw fewer than 2 people in the waiting room, and there were as many as 8. For a 1 doctor show! I ran back out to tell Mike, and forgot about the fact that he still didn’t have any coins for the Automat. He parked the car, nonetheless, and came inside and waited with me.

The doctor saw me rather promptly, and I was surprised to find that he was almost un-German in his manner. He was warm, open, inquisitive, friendly, chatty, and downright happy from the get-go! (I’m not saying that Germans aren’t all of those things, in general, but you have to stick around for a long time before you get to that place of easy camaraderie, for the most part, and this doctor lead with it!). My friends have had less than astounding experiences with the doctors they have seen, so this was all the more amazing. He noted my cough (which sounds a wee bit like the Loch Ness Monster is trapped inside my lungs), the length of time I’ve been battling this sinus headache (pretty much since we got to Germany), the fact that my husband was darn near deathly ill, and wasted no time in recommending antibiotics. (I’ll be honest, as I write this, I regret not asking him for some pain meds because my throat hurts so bad, but at the time, I was grateful.)

After walking me back to the waiting room, and greeting Mike like a long-lost friend, we were off. As we turned towards the car, we both saw the police officer standing in front of our car writing the ticket. I confirmed my suspicion with Mike, and Mike, as he is prone to do, stepped towards the police officer and was essentially admitting that he knew better than to park there without paying when I saw my opening. I began to cough. If you heard the Loch Ness Monster trying to get out of a petite, red-haired lady, I dare to venture that you would have done the same thing that the police officer did. He shook his head no, and waved his hand across the whole scene, muttered something to Mike about next time and got the H-E-double hockey sticks out of there. When we got in the car, I told Mike that I’d gambled that it would work (in spite of the pain coughing causes me), and he giggled like a school boy. Mike is 100%of the school that if you do something wrong, you deserve to get the consequence. He would never think of arguing or pleading or anything else to get out of a ticket. I agree in heart and mind with this school of thinking (and I love that about him), but I am not above pity. 🙂

Warning: The next paragraph may contain TMI for some of you. I’m warning you so that you can scroll ahead if you want to.

So… I’ve gone from the I-Might-Be-Getting-Sick stage to the full-blown pathetic, myself. I woke up in the night because my nose had run onto my chest and arm. In case you are wondering, that is nasty beyond my capacity to capture in words (and I will not document my own illness in photos; I am not THAT sick). And the only Kleenex we have in the house is actually worse than our TP, so my nose is sore and red (in keeping with the season, I suppose that means I’m beginning to look like Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer who has the Loch Ness monster trapped inside. I’m feverish, and when I take an Advil, my body rebels and my fever goes up. However, a spoonful of honey does seem to make my throat feel better…

Note: This marks the end of the TMI section. Although I am treating you all like good friends, I do understand if you preferred not to read the above.

Sadly, I fear that our weekend plans are for naught. We were planning to meet up with some friends I know from the US, who are currently in England, in Cologne (Köln here; I love it when words become shorter in other languages) for the beginning of the Christmas market season. Big fat boo on sickness. Also, big fat boo on booking a hotel with a no-cancellation policy! I doubt I’ll ever go for that again…

As I pout about missing what is sure to be a wonderful kick-off to the Advent season, I will, instead, reflect back to my days in warm, sunny Roma. Please enjoy the following pictures (completely unedited) as a preview of coming attractions:

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Sick Boy

Mike is sick. So sick, in fact, that he is going to the doctor. As he points out, it is even of his own volition! That, my friends, is a very sick Mike, indeed. If you have never been around Mike when he is sick (which I hadn’t, really, until the last couple of days), he is a wee bit pathetic. I say that with love, of course, but it is true. And he is very talkative. Much more so than usual… The worse he feels, the more he talks. I tried to encourage him to channel some of that energy into writing a post here, but wouldn’t you know that was exactly when he decided he needed a nap?

However, it is also worth noting that I am about to drive him to the doctor’s office! Woo Hoo! Yay me! Afterwards, I’m planning to drive (all by myself, I might add) to the grocery store! Miracles never cease, but I think I’m mastering this stick driving thing! And, yesterday, I was granted my official residency in Germany (or at least I received the card that had been processed to that effect). Oh yeah.. 🙂

In case you are wondering what a sick Mike looks like (I know that this is a very rare occurrence, and I feel like I must document it with scientific precision!), here you go:

As he says, this is his “sarcophagus pose.” He has basically looked just like this all day today. And yesterday. Poor baby… he has a bacterial infection, the doctor says, so hopefully the meds will knock that sucker out quickly! He’s made a little tower there for himself – trashcan for the Kleenex which doubles as a table for his computer which doubles as a place to rest one’s glasses…

This was yesterday, when he was trying to use the Rote Lampe to break up the infection. Turns out, a trip to the doctor was in order. In addition to getting a script for antibiotics, the doctor also wrote him a prescription to stay home from work for a week! You will notice in the background my attempts to reinforce our German language skills… Everything has been given its German name on a post-it note!

Meanwhile, back to my originally planned post for today: Venice!

Venice was our first official Italian stop (I say official because we did stop at a rest stop and I did drive in Italy!), and we arrived mid-afternoon. I was honestly simply excited to be somewhere where the low temperatures did not involve freezing, to tell you the truth, but even bigger than that, I was in Italy! I can not remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to go to Italy. I’m sure that there were a few years there at the beginning when I didn’t know that it existed, but I don’t remember that!

I felt like Italy was smiling back at me, too! None of the dreaded flood-worthy tides came in while we were there, there was no real rain to speak of (although it had been predicted to rain the whole full day we were there), and it didn’t stink! Everyone always says, “Oh Venice is lovely, but it sure does stink!” Well, not while we were there! Hooray! We had a lovely hotel convenient to San Marcos (which defies imagination) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Even though it was a dream come true, there were 2 things that stood out as pretty major disappointments:

1. The food. Italian food is supposed to be pretty much can’t miss, right? I enjoyed all of the food I had in Italy outside of Venice (pastas, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, etc.), but Venice was VERY hit or miss. I was served a plate of linguine with a frozen mixed vegetable topping and then had to pay not only for the dish itself (majorly overpriced), but also for the chair in which I sat (cover charges are everywhere). Fortunately, the next day, we found a non-touristy place for lunch and then took the wonderful advice of a dear reader and friend for dinner and had a fabulous meal. Thanks, Lindy!

The best Caprese salad I had in Italy! Yummy!

2. The 1st gondola guy tried to rip us off. We’d just had a tour during which our tour guide was especially emphatic that they would try to milk tourists, and then he went and tried to con us into taking a tour for a LOT more money than we would ever want to pay for that. And then, he wouldn’t take us when I reminded him that the fares were regulated and that I wanted to pay the established rate. We found another (much nicer) gondola guy, but by that time, Mike was pretty much over it. We did learn a lot on our gondola ride, and I’m glad we did it, but I sure do wish it had gone better at the start. Our tour guide said that she’s heard of people being charged over 500 EURO for a gondola ride… Totally not worth that, I can assure you…

In any case, here are some pictures of the Venice we saw:

San Giorgio Maggiore by night. This was always across the canal from where we were (even when we crossed the canal), but it was a sight to behold!

Inside the Santa Maria della Salute, which means “St. Mary’s of Health.” A lot of the churches in the area were built right after they had one plague or another, and the churches were meant to bless the people with health. This one is important to Venetians as it is said to represent their triumph over adversity. Every year, they have a festival as an expression of thanks for Venice’s delivery. We saw one of the specially built bridges to accommodate the influx of people who come carrying lanterns as a part of the festivities.

The outside of the Salute Church, which is the unofficial face of Venice, as nearly every movie or representation of Venice features this church.

The Rialto (and most famous) bridge in Venice.

Street-scape, Venice-style.

At the naval base in Venice… this is what made Venice so powerful, really, that they could crank out the boats in no time. The fact that they were so conveniently located for trading didn’t help, either, and I’m sure that that made it even more convenient for all of their looting! Venice is famous for snatching statues and relics and the like…

The Ducal Palace, right next to the Basilica of San Marcos… San Marcos used to be the private church for the Doge! Seriously, that is incredible! You can’t really see it here, but 2 of the columns on the palace are pink, which indicated where the Doge would stand to address the people.

View of Venice from the Bell Tower at San Marcos. While offering cool views of Venice, the Campanile di San Marcos has an interesting history all of its own. At 98.6 meters high, it is one of the tallest structures in Venice, and was built originally in 1514. It had to be reconstructed in 1912 after it fell in 1902. Yep.. it just fell down. Things have a way of shifting and sorting when you are on an island created out of nothing much…

On top of the Basilica di San Marco stand replicas of 4 horses that were originally installed at the church in 1254. Of course, that wasn’t their first stop, being one of many examples of all the looting… Some people say that they go as far back as decorating the Arch of Trajan, which puts them around 1900 years old! In 1204 Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. Napoleon grabbed them in 1797 but they were returned to Venice in 1815. The original horses were inside the museum…

St. Mark’s, which is also called Chiesa d’Oro (the church of gold). This was easily the coolest thing we saw in Venice in my opinion, and Mike said that it even topped the Sistine Chapel in his book. Everything in this church is decorated with mosaics, and there was an awful lot of gold that makes it all so lovely! Historically, it was a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, and from the looks of things, they had a lot of wealth and a lot of power! The church was originally consecrated in 1071, and it sounds like it changed a lot over time (all that looting meant that things were always getting updated with new marble this and new columns that, add a frieze, and voila! We’re good ’til the next century…)

Closer up picture of one of the doorways at the basilica… That is all mosaic! Another cool thing (in a creepy sort of way) is that they are supposed to have the body of St. Mark in this church… which they also stole, from the Egyptians. I understand that the Egyptians still have his head, though.

The “good” gondolier!

 

The Mayans May Be Right, Y’all… (My Dreams Came True, Part 1)

I’m not one to subscribe to much of that sort of ballyhooed, fatalist rigamarole, you know. Not about the end of the world, or zombies, for that matter. But… this morning, I woke up, and I realized that my own little corner of dreamland is over and I thought, “well, I guess this is it, then…”

Over the last 9 days, Mike and I spent time in the land of the “Fairy Tale King” (for real, that is what King Ludwig II was called, and he had the castles to back it up), also known as Schwangau/Füssen, Germany; Venice, Italy; Rome, Italy; and Innsbruck, Austria. Can you believe that the castle part of Germany and that Innsbruck were really just stop-overs on a long road trip? Matters of convenience? Believe me, people, these places are worth their own trip across the pond, in my opinion. We took almost 900 pictures in Schwangau/Füssen alone! (and, you aren’t allowed to take photos inside the castles, and we arrived at night on Friday, and left early Sunday morning. Almost 900 pictures in about 36 hours. At a point of convenience on our road trip to Venice. Needless to say, 9 days later our memory cards are bursting and our trigger fingers have blisters…

I was telling Mike that every single day of our trip (EVERY SINGLE DAY, I TELL YOU!), I felt like saying, “I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as this. I need to take a picture. Well, not just one picture, this needs multiple pictures – just to remind myself that I really saw it!”

A lake in Schwangau, with water clearer than clear, and reflections sharper than sharp!

We got to our hotel (a really cute family run inn midway between Hohenschwangau (the original hunting palace of the royal family of Bavaria) and Neuschwanstein (the castle that the castle in Disney theme parks is supposedly modeled after) close to 9pm on Friday night. Especially in small towns in rural Germany, this is very late… We decided just to check out what the castles look like at night (and they are gorgeous), but what was breathtaking was the sky! The same sky that each one of us looks upon, but here? Touched with fairy dust… Truly, I’ve never seen a sky that pretty before. We tramped out into the middle of an ice/snow/frost covered field, just under the shadows of mountains, and I saw galaxies, stars, and planets in a way that I have never even imagined before. We have a great camera, but even it does not do justice to the magnificence of this field. I have been hiking, I have been to the mountains, I have been where the sky was supposed to be unfettered by urban interference, but I have never seen anything like this. I was freezing, don’t get me wrong (did I mention that I was standing in a snow/ice/frost covered field at night and it was negative something unmentionable??), but the shivers I had were in no relation to the cold I felt. I was a witness to a miracle.

And that was before I woke up and saw the majesty of the mountains RIGHT OUTSIDE MY WINDOW! And the castles! With a warm cup of hot chocolate, we were off! Check it out:

Walking through Schwangau, both beside and towards the mountains.

The streets cape near the ticket office for the castles. So German and so adorable!

Along the walk to Hohenschwangau… So pretty I could hardly stand it!

There is a walk from the town up to the 1st castle that is about 30 minutes or so… It was brisk, but quite beautiful!

The first, and oldest castle, Hohenschwangau. Mike and I laughed a bit at breakfast, as the inn keeper explained to a fellow tourist that people see this castle first. It is incredibly German to have an order to things, and one would never veer from the appointed order of things, so Hohenschwangau is the first order of business (it is the older of the two castles, thus one would naturally see the older one first)!

Another view of the Hohenschwangau Castle, which was re-built in 1832 by King Maximillian of Bavaria as a hunting/summer residence. There is mention of a castle on this site as far back as the 12th century, but the original castle here was destroyed during several different wars. The interior is well-maintained and quite beautiful, but we couldn’t take pictures inside. It was very funny to hear our tour guide refer to her bosses… who are still the Royal Family of Bavaria, even though they don’t have much power (except over one of the biggest tourist attractions in Germany)…

View from Hohenschwangau… stunning!

Neuschwanstein, from Hohenschwangau. Ludwig II, who is probably the most famous of the Bavarian Royals, was having this castle built (1869-1886) so that he could have a castle like they had in the medieval days. He was very shy, and wanted to have a retreat from the other castle. He once said, “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others,” and I think it is safe to say that he accomplished this goal completely. He even died mysteriously! He was found drowned (with his doctor) after a coup had him locked up in a mental institution… The castle, which has been very well visited, was never finished on account of his death. The scaffolding, however, is only part of the restoration; it wasn’t left there in the 1800s!

Neuschwanstein, in the afternoon sun. Ludwig II was not only shy, but he was also extremely pious. He identified himself with Parsifal, a medieval character who became the Grail king, who was redeemed through his purity and faith. This character was also the subject of an opera by Richard Wagner, to whom Ludwig II was quite devoted. The castle, Neuschwanstein, was dedicated to Wagner, in fact. After meeting Ludwig, Wagner said this: “… Today I was brought to him. He is unfortunately so beautiful and wise, soulful and lordly, that I fear his life must fade away like a divine dream in this base world … You cannot imagine the magic of his regard: if he remains alive it will be a great miracle!”

So beautiful! The King’s dreams and his reality were often not aligned, and after he was defeated in “The German War,” and his policies were really sent down from Prussia, he set out to build more castle than he really had the resources to do so. It was a squabble with the banks that supposedly caused him to be deposed and sent to the mental institution, where he died.

After touring the amazing castles, we drove about half an hour away to see a church along the Romantische Straße (the Romantic Road) called “Weiskirche,” the pilgrimage church of the Scourged Savior. It is truly in the middle of nowhere, and the town around it is nearly nonexistent, save for the church, but it is beyond the scope of justice any picture can do. Back in the 1730s, there was a wooden carving of Jesus bound in chains. Tears were seen flowing on this rendering of the Savior, and thus began a pilgrimage of epic proportions. The church we saw was built to accommodate the many faithful who came to see the miracle, as the church that was there is probably smaller than most of your closets. It is really, really tiny… The Steingaden monastery (that is the name of the town the church is in) oversaw the building of the Rococo masterpiece that is Wieskirche today. The architect who was in charge was so enamored with the church that he built a house right next to the church! It really is that gorgeous… For more information on this church, check out this site. And these pictures:

It is no wonder that the church is a cultural site on the World Heritage List by UNESCO… (and I don’t blame that architect one little bit, either!)

“Hoc loco habitat fortuna, hic quiescit cor.” (In this place abideth happiness; here the heart finds peace.) This is a quote from the builder about this magnificent place. Throughout all of its magnificence, there is a strong spiritual quiet that speaks more loudly than any of the bright colors.

Just to put this in perspective… at this point in our picture-taking, we haven’t even been on vacation for 24 hours yet! CAN YOU IMAGINE?!?