NOVEMBER 9, 2014—We Have Returned!!

We have arrived safely in Indianapolis. We would like to thank all of you who have followed our blog and emailed us while we were traveling. The trip was amazing, but it is good to be back. We are a bit tired after traveling for most of two years. We hope to rest and recuperate and then catch-up with family and friends.

We last posted on October 10th. In the last month, we covered a lot of ground and have many things to share with you. From Geneva, we drove to Beaune, France the wine capital of Burgundy. We spent two days exploring the city and the vineyards around Beaune, which produce some of the world’s best and most expensive, red and white wines. One of the outstanding sights in Beaune is the Hospices de Beaune, which was founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor. The Northern Renaissance architecture was amazing. It was also one of the first hospitals to admit men and women in the same facility. Today the Hospices de Beaune holds a charity auction of wine that is one of the largest and financially successful wine auctions in the world.

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One of the vineyards we visited near Beaune was the Chateau Meursalt. The Chateau dates to the 11th century and was owned by a lawyer. We toured the tasting rooms and the “caves”, underground tunnels where the wine is aged. The Chateau produces both red and white wines. The Chateau produces grand cru and premier cru red and white wines. As you may recall, grand cru in Burgundy is top of the chart while premier cru is the second best on the chart.

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From Beaune, we drove to Epernay, France, which is the center for the production of Champagne. In Epernay, you will find Moet & Chandom, the maker of Dom Perignon, as well as Pol Roger, Winston Churchill’s favorite Champagne, Perrier-Jouet, Mercier and many others. Some of the houses are located in Reims, which is not far away.

Just a little something we saw along the way to Epernay.
Just a little something we saw along the way to Epernay.
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We did a tour of Veuve Cliquots house and cellars in Reims. The name means the “Widow Cliquot”. She was the only woman to run a Champagne house. We learned a lot about the production of Champagne, which is substantially different from our lessons on Bordeaux and Burgundy wine production.

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Most of the bottles are still turned by hand.
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Think Norm will find a wine he likes in the “Wine List”??? Pretty Thick Book, for sure!

Geneva, Switzerland

October 10, 2014

We last posted on September 26th. That has been 13 days ago when we were packed and ready to leave Greve for destinations undecided. During the last 13 days, we have been very busy. We have been to Milan, Lake Iseo, Lake Garda, Venice, Lake Como, St. Moritz, Appenzell, Zermatt and this evening we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. We have been busy, seeing a lot of wonderful places, and enjoying every minute of it. Unfortunately, we have only 22 days left in Europe.

 In Milan, we saw the Cathedral of Milan. Not only did we tour the inside of the Cathedral, we went to the top of it so we could see the beautiful view over Milan and to get a better eye for the structure and how this magnifcent place was actually built.  It is the third largest cathedral in the world, took six centuries to build, and is the greatest example of Gothic architecture in Italy.   As you will remember, Gothic architecture is best known for its pointed arch above the entry door, the ribbed vaulted ceilings and the external flying buttresses for support. The cathedral also has one of the venerated nails from Jesus’s cross.

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We also viewed the Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie. Da Vinci started the work in 1495 and completed it in 1598. Unfortunately, he tried a new technique of painting on a dry plaster wall, rather than a wet plaster wall, which would have been a true fresco. Da Vinci new technique did not work and has been painted over several times and little remains of the original work of Da Vinci. Nevertheless, the painting is inspiring. It is the second most recognized painting in the world after the Mona Lisa, another Da Vinci. The third most recognized painting is ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo.   Rita and I have been fortunate to have been able to see all three of these paintings. We were not allowed to photograph the Last Supper, or anything inside the building where it is viewed.  Sorry about that.  No pics of it.

Our less religious endeavors in Milan included a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where Rita took a spin on the bull’s balls for good luck, which is a local custom in Milan. The Galleria is one of the world’s oldest shopping centers. Today it is filled with luxury shops like Prada, Gucci, etc. The bull’s balls are part of the tiled floor at the Galleria and are part of the symbol of the city of Turin, Italy. Local custom is that if you stand on the bull’s balls and spin around, you will have good luck. I hope Rita has good luck, because the bull’s balls certainly did not!! So many people spinning on them have worn them away. Instead, there is just a hole in the tile where the bull’s balls used to be.

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From Milan, we drove around Lake Iseo and Lake Garda in Italy on our way to Venice to see if any celebrities were still hanging out in Venice after George Clooney’s wedding. The Lakes were beautiful and surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, there is some pollution in the air that makes them seem a bit smogged in like Los Angeles is at times.

Venice was lovely even though it rained one day. We did not see any celebrities, but we were not disappointed with the sights in Venice including St. Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace, the battle of the orchestra’s, and the Rialto Bridge.

Since we could not find George in Venice, we decided to visit him at his home at Lake Como.   We rented a boat for the afternoon and drove by his “compound” of four homes on Lake Como. They were nice, but not over the top. But, his compound has lovely gardens. He bought his home from Mrs. Heinz (of Ketchup fame), who owns another home on Lake Como, as do the Rockefellers. Unfortunately, George was not at his home.

A short drive from Lake Como over the Italian Alps and into the Swiss Alps is St. Moritz. St. Moritz is a ski resort for the rich and famous of Europe. We were there in October and it was pretty much closed because the summer season was over and the winter season had not started. But, the drive to St. Moritz as through the most beautiful mountains and alongside blue lakes made the visit worthwhile for us.

We spent only one night in St. Moritz and from there we drove North and a little East through Switzerland and even entered the small country of Liechtenstein for part of the drive before we arrived in an area of Switzerland known as Appenzell. Appenzell is farmland nestled into green, rolling hills. It is not just any old green, but the greenest green you will ever see in your life. The cows have bells around their necks and when you stop and get out of your car, all you hear are the cowbells ringing from hillside to hillside. The music of the bells is beautiful to hear. Appenzell is composed of independent Swiss. They did not allow women to vote until 1991. They also defied the Swiss national government by refusing to teach German or Italian in school, but instead teaching English. Their homes are made mostly of wood and all the windows have the most beautiful flower boxes. Most of the homes are painted bright colors. Appenzell looks idyllic to us.

From Appenzell, we drove to Zermatt, Switzerland by way of Lucerne. We only had a couple of hours in Lucerne, but the old city was beautiful. Lucerne is located on the Reuss River, which flows through the city into Lake Lucerne. In the middle of the River and old city, there is a wooden bridge known as the Chapel Bridge, which is the oldest covered bridge in Europe even though a large part of it was destroyed by fire in 1993. The Chapel Bridge is the second most photographed sight in Switzerland after the Matterhorn, which is located in Zermatt. On our drive to Zermatt from Lucerne, Rita drove the Novena della Passo in a blinding fog.   It is the second highest pass in Switzerland. Rita could not see a thing, but that was also very good because there were no guardrails. In places the road was only single lane, and, of course, as we climbed to the 8,130 feet to cross over the pass, there was snow.   Rita was white knuckled and scared SH*TLESS!!!! We didn’t speak during our entire climb up and down the pass, but rather held our breaths and silently prayed. After an hour of driving, we descended from the pass into sunshine and were greatly relieved.

Zermatt is a ski town in the Swiss Alps that border on Italy. It is a small village of 3500 people. Besides skiing, people go to Zermatt to see and photograph the Matterhorn, one of the most beautiful and recognizable mountains, in the world. We spent three days in Zermatt waiting for the weather surrounding the Matterhorn to clear so that we could take a photograph. But, the wait was well worth it. Once the weather broke, we also rode a train to 10,000 feet above sea level to get a better view of the Matterhorn and 29 of Switzerland’s 35 peaks over 13, 135 feet.

Today we drove from Zermatt to Geneva, Switzerland along Lake Geneva and through Montreux and Lausanne, Switzerland. We are spending a couple of days in Geneva to unwind before we enter France for the final leg of our journey. Stay tuned.  We’ll post the rest of the pictures soon, we have to check out now!! Loosing our great wifi connection!

Finally the Pictures from our last blog!  Beginning with our drive to Lake Iseo and Lake Garda.  

Just another round-a-bout decoration! Ryka made in Italy.
Just another round-a-bout decoration! RIVA made in Italy.
This is just on one of the winding curvy roads on our way to Lake Iseo. Riva di Solto.
This is just on one of the winding curvy roads on our way to Lake Iseo. Riva di Solto.

September 26, 2014—Arrividerci Greve in Chianti!

It has been three weeks since we have posted; and we have been very busy. The biggest event of the year in Greve is the Chianti Wine Festival. This year was the 44th year for the festival. The triangular shaped main Piazza Matteotti in Greve is closed to car traffic and booths are set up on the Piazza for approximately 50 Wineries/Vineyards that produce Chianti wine in the vicinity of Greve. You buy a wine glass for $26 and it entitles you to taste the wines of 7 Wineries/Vineyards. The festival starts on Thursday and runs until Sunday. This year the opening days were marred by rain.But, on Sunday evening there was a record crowd on hand.We went to the festival on Friday to kind of check it out and had a good time!

Then, on Saturday, Rita had friends from Ft. Wayne, Louise, Kevin, Bonnie and David stopped by Greve on a drive through Chianti. They stayed with us at the villa for 4 days and we had a nice visit and caught up on all the news from back home.

Kevin and Louise
Kevin and Louise
Louise, Norm, Rita, Bonnie and Dave, (Kevin took pic)
Louise, Norm, Kevin, Bonnie and Dave, (Rita took pic)
Dave, Bonnie, Louise, Norm and Rita
Dave, Bonnie, Louise, Norm and Rita

The Sacred Belt of the Virgin Mary

On September the 8th, Norm and I were privileged to be able to witness the display of one of the most sacred relics in the Catholic tradition, the “Sacred Belt” (Sacra Cintola) of the Virgin Mary in Prato, Italy. The display or “ostensione” takes place only five times a year, on Christmas, Easter, May 1st, August 15th (The Assumption of the Virgin Mary), and September 8th (Nativity of the Virgin Mary). This last date is the most important of the displays, with large crowds gathering in conjunction with further festivities that lasts three days. The festivities for this particular evening started with a procession beginning at 8:00PM, and the display of the belt to follow at 10:30 PM. We thought, ok, we could hang out that long and see what this was all about.

Here’s a little history of the belt: (taken from our brochure)

The Sacred Belt of the Prato Cathedral is a thin strip of green fabric with gold brocades and a green tassel and band at the ends. As told in an ancient oriental apocryphal text after the Blessed Virgin’s death St. Thomas was carried by angels to the Mount of Olives; there he contemplated the Virgin while she was taken up into the Heaven, and received the gift of the belt in proof of the event. According to Prato medieval tradition the sacred belt was then entrusted to a priest and preserved by his descendants. After the first crusade, a Prato pilgrim of modest origins called Michele (Michael), fell in love with Maria, the daughter of an oriental priest and married her in secret, against her father’s wish and received as dowry the “Sacred Cincture” in a small basket made of rushes. After returning to Prato around 1141, Michele spoke to no one about the holy relic and only on his death bed (1172), he donated it to the provost of the nearby church of St. Stephen (The Duomo is the Cathedral of St. Stephen). The sacred Belt furthermore was considered the most valuable treasure of the entire city, so much so that its public display was established by the bylaws of Commune, which still today has in custody a set of the keys required to take it out of the altar.

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The belt of green camel hair material is displayed inside a gold and glass reliquary container from the Donatello pulpit on the exterior of the Cathedral during a special mass, the rest of which takes place inside the Duomo. The Bishop holds it up for public view in three directions, three times. The belt has both civic and religious importance to the commune of Prato, therefore the ceremony requires the participation of two authorities, and their numerous representatives; one civic (the Mayor) and one religious (the Bishop). While the religious authorities perform a mass inside the Duomo, there is a civic procession (Parade, as we Americans call it) with drummers, many, many, flag throwers, and trumpets that walk throughout the city to the Duomo. Once they arrive in front of the Duomo, they perform their specialty.

Here are a few pictures of what they do.

The first of the procession is arriving right behind this police motorcycle escort!
The first of the procession is arriving right behind this police motorcycle escort!
Lovely costumes worn by everyone!
Lovely costumes worn by everyone!
Another area represented!
Another area represented!
This is just ONE of the many performances of "flag throwers"! These are classical throwers!
This is just ONE of the many performances of “flag throwers”! These are classical throwers!

September 7, 2014… Almost Feels like Home!!

We have completed our fifth week in Greti/Greve/Chianti/Italy. It has started to feel like home. We are getting used to the store hours and restaurants. We feel comfortable with the villa, pool, and tennis court. We have not met any Italians, but that is the result of our language inadequacies. The Italians we come in daily contact with our friendly and interested in us and are a pleasure to deal with. There are minor frustrations still, but even those are becoming less. For example, we needed gas the other day to go on a road trip and learned that the gas stations, like other shops, also close between 2 and 4 PM. It is also hard to get used to no grocery shopping on Sundays or Wednesday afternoons. But, we have adjusted.

Next, are a few of our “Impressions on Italy and the Italians.” First, almost every restaurant gives you something free. It may be a glass of Prosecco, as an aperitif to start the meal, or a lemoncello to complete the meal, or it might be a small appetizer as you start your meal or some chocolate or other type of small dessert at the end of your meal. It is a pleasant gesture that we would like to see more of in the U.S. restaurants. Second, Rita is not used to seeing rabbit on the menus and in the grocery store. The rabbits stare back at you with big bulging eyes in the meat case at the grocery store. It is a little unnerving.

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Third, the Italians, like the French, always serve the shell on their lobster, mussels, oysters, shrimp and langoustine. They do this in order to show the customer that the shellfish is fresh. But, it is pretty darn hard to cut those shells off. Usually, the restaurant is NOT willing to remove the shells in the kitchen. So, we have eaten very little shellfish. Fourth, the daily diet of the Italians seems more restricted than other countries we have visited. Dinner always starts with salami or ham, or fried zucchini flowers or some other appetizer, followed by a pasta, followed by meat, (very little chicken and no fish), and dessert. The Italians seem to pass on the cheese course that is so common in France. And… there is no such thing as a “Caesar salad” or garlic bread, or cheesy garlic bread or any garlic bread for that matter and last…. this is for all of you white sauce lovers… there is NO ALFREDO sauce in Italy… that is all American.

The pharmacies in Italy are wonderful. The Pharmacist is very highly regarded here, seems to be just as highly regarded as a doctor. Not only are drugs subsidized and therefore less expensive than in the U.S., but also, there are always two or three clerks in white jackets, referred to as Pharmacist/Doctors, willing to give you medical advice for free. And, they will sell you a prescription drug with out having to have a script, if you tell them what ails you and what you’ve used before.

The season in Greve is changing from summer to fall. The weather is slightly cooler, the nights are pleasant and most importantly the green, scrawny grapes we have been watching for five weeks have now turned a beautiful purple and the grapes are large, round and bountiful. The extra upper grapes have been cut away so that lower grapes can become larger. In fact, 6 kilos of grapes may be cut away to make the remaining 2 kilos of grapes better. This coming week, from the 11th to the 14th is the big 4-day wine festival in Greve. One of the biggest festivals held in Chianti. We are excited about attending the festival and tasting the Chianti wines. In addition to the red wine, we have found a few white wine grapes in Chianti.

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We ate a great dinner at “il ristoro de lamole” in Lamole. It is on a mountaintop near Greve and is the Number 1 restaurant in Chianti, if not for its food, certainly for its view. You have to drive up the mountain with numerous hairpin turns on skinny-ass roads with NO guardrails to get to the restaurant. But, once there you can see for miles across the beautiful Chianti valley all the way to San Gimignano.   The presentations were as lovely as the food tasted.   We (meaning I) relied on GPS to get us there. That was a mistake. She (GPS is a she when it’s wrong!) took us to the wrong side of the mountain. To make up for loss time, I drove like a mad man, and not only did I make Rita sick to her stomach, she could barely unclench her white knuckled hands from hanging on to get out of the car, so we had to wait for her stomach to return to normal before she could eat. That was the first and only time I drove, and haven’t driven since!!! Rita drove home, to say the least.

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This week we took a 4-day road trip. This time we went south to Siena, by way of San Gimignano.

Badia a Passignano, a very pretty little town on the way to San Gimignano.
Badia a Passignano, a very pretty little town on the way to San Gimignano.
San Gimignano
San Gimignano

Settling in and getting to know our surroundings!

August 24, 2014

Well, we have been in Europe for 113 days; in Chianti for 23 days; we have 35 days left in Chianti; and we have 70 days left in Europe. But, who is counting!

During the past two weeks, we have been exploring Chianti, trying to get to know the people, the food and the culture of Italy. The people seem more reserved than the French to Rita and me, but in fairness to the Italians, it may be nothing more than we know some French and we do not know any Italian. We were in a restaurant the other day and asked if we could order a small quantity of food. The waiter immediately asked us if we were American? When we advised him we were, he said the Americans eat smaller portions of food than the Italians. When the Italians go out to eat, they want large portions and they eat for a really long time.

One of the fish meals we found at Il Portico in Greve.  This one is the John Dory with potatoes and tomatoes.  Delicious.
One of the fish meals we found at Il Portico in Greve. This one is the John Dory with potatoes and tomatoes. Delicious. (And this is the “Second” plate, after the appetizer and “Primi” plate!)

Driving has been more hectic here in Italy. The Italians honk their horns a lot more than the French and make gestures with their hands and fingers. We can’t tell if we are driving worse, or the Italians are less patient, or if they just don’t like the French because our car has a French plate.

The Italians eat a lot of pasta, beef and pork. We have looked everywhere for fish, but were unsuccessful in finding a fish restaurant until this week. In Greve, we found Ristorante Il Portico that serves wonderful swordfish and John Dory, (see above picture) both white fishes. The swordfish is grilled and the John Dory comes with white wine, capers, and olives. Both fishplates were to die for. We will definitely be spending more time there.

We have been trying to adjust to the Italian clock. It has been really hard. The Italians start the workday around 10:00AM, but not exactly, they work until 1:30 PM, but not exactly, and then EVERYTHING closes until 4:00PM, but not exactly. At 4:00PM, but not exactly, every thing opens again and stays open until 7:30PM, but not exactly. There is also no rhyme or reason to the days that the stores and shops are closed. Some are closed on Monday, but as we try to go to the grocery store, cleaners, greens market and pharmacy, we find that each has its own day for closing and some close a full day while others close a half day. We like to get up at 7, ride bikes, play tennis, eat breakfast, clean up, and then plan our day. But, it is usually 11:00 or 11:30 before we are cleaned up and ready to go. But, this only gives us an hour and a half to do our shopping which is usually not enough time to go to several shops. So, if we don’t go in the morning, we have to wait until 4:00PM!

Since we have been in Greti/Greve, we have made one road trip to San Gimignano. We visited San Gimignano a couple of years ago and loved it so we wanted to make a return trip. It is an ancient walled city with numerous towers that were used in time of war.

On our way to San Gimignano.
On our way to San Gimignano.

We also had a wonderful tour of Castello di Verrazzano Winery. The Verrazano Family came to Chianti in 700AD. They built a castle/fort on a mountaintop and their descendants owned the original property until 1958 when the last of them died. The winery produces Chianti wine and balsamic vinegar. There are still plenty of woods on the property, which also still has wild boars roaming about in the woods.

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On Tuesday, August 19th, we took our first Italian cooking class in the village of Certaldo, which is a walled village that sits on top of a mountain. We had trouble finding the place, even with GPS, but soon re-read the instructions, and it said to either walk up or take the funicular… Yeah, we took the easy route, of course.  The class was taught by Giuseppe and her future daughter-in-law. We made a four-course meal consisting of fried zucchini blossoms, chicken cacciatore, homemade pasta with pomodoro sauce, and panna cotta with fresh fruit. Of course, we had white wine, red wine and lemoncello as a digestive.

This is the funicular ride to Certaldo where we took our first Italian cooking lessson.
This is the funicular ride to Certaldo where we took our first Italian cooking lessson.
Now this is the real way you start the dough for the homemade pasta.
Now this is the real way you start the dough for the homemade pasta.

Sunday, August 10, 2014. Greti, Italy—Moving In

Well, when we last left you we were in Portofino. Although we hated to leave Portofino, it was time to move on to our next villa in Greti, Italy. Greti is an even smaller village than St. Leon sur-Vezere. The population of Greti is 357. It is 2.5 kilometers from Greve in Chianti and is under its jurisdiction. Both are in the province of Florence, Tuscany, Italy. The only photo I have of Greti is the wine shop for the Castello di Verranzano, which is located at a cross-road in Greti.

Our only photo of Greti because it really does not have any commercial or retail activity.  It is just a crossroads.  But, at least we have a famous vineyard in our back yard.  Castello di Verranzano.  And, we love the size of the bottles as you can imagine from the size of the cork!!
Our only photo of Greti because it really does not have any commercial or retail activity. It is just a crossroads. But, at least we have a famous vineyard in our back yard. Castello di Verranzano. And, we love the size of the bottles as you can imagine from the size of the cork!!

The Castello belongs to the Verranzano Family. Verranzano was an Italian sea explorer who discovered the Bay of New York and New York later named the Verranzano Bridge after him.

Our villa is nice. It is not a Tuscan farm-house, but rather a contemporary home in a subdivision with two other similar homes, (if you can call three houses in a row a subdivision). We have three floors, 4 bedrooms and 4 baths. For one reasonable price, the villa includes a large swimming pool, not heated, and a tennis court that is only heated when Rita and I get into a dispute over a close line call. The villa has a patio where we can take our meals over looking the pool and tennis court. From our patio, we can see the Tuscan hillsides, vineyards and, occasionally, a beautiful sunset.

This is the front of our villa in Greti. We are being greeted by Litizia, a friend of the owner who helped with translations.
This is the front of our villa in Greti. We are being greeted by Litizia, a friend of the owner who helped with translations.
Large pool in back yard.  The villa has three levels.  Ugh!  We have to walk up steps! :-)
Large pool in back yard. The villa has three levels. Ugh! We have to walk up steps! 🙂

July 31, 2014 – We are in Portofino, Italy…

Where has the time gone? We last posted two weeks ago. You are probably wondering if we are still alive. We are alive and well. But, we have been busy with visitors, packing up our house in St. Leon sur-Vezere and changing countries. Let us explain.

When we last left you, we were preparing for a visit by Yann, Peggy, Cheyenne and Tinael Desmadryls. They arrived on the 19th. We had a great visit. The kids loved playing in the pool.   Cheyenne is 10 and Tinael is 6. We were amazed that a brother and sister could get along so well and play together for four days without any problems. What great kids and a lot of fun. We visited St. Christophe Rock where the Troglodytes lived. Over 1000 of Troglodytes built homes in the rocks above the Vezere River. The homes were carved out of 1.5 kilometers of rock. Next, we visited the Prehistoric Park to see how the Troglodytes lived and hunted 40,000 years ago. Then, we visited the Chateau de Losse. On our last day, we visited the Chateau Clerans, which is next door to our Maison Clerans and owned by the same English couple. Cheyenne showed us her gymnastic skills at the pool and her artistic side by making a computer out of paper. Tinaeal is into soccer and practiced in the court- yard kicking the soccer ball. Yann and Peggy were a lot of fun and we enjoyed eating out and cooking in with them.   Yann does not eat cheese or drink wine. Can he really be French???   Peggy puts Camembert cheese on a baguette with butter and dunks it in her coffee for breakfast. Now, that is very French.   Yann, Peggy and the children left on the 22nd for three weeks on the Mediterranean Sea.

As soon as Desmadryls departed for the coast, Rita and I started packing for our move from the Maison Clerans to Italy. It took us longer than we thought because we had accumulated a bunch of kitchen items and food that we planned to take with us. We also had to say goodbye to all our acquaintances in St. Leon sur-Vezere. We will miss Nadine at the grocery store, Lyon at the Auberge du Pont and Marie at the Le Petit Leon. We will also miss the Thursday night market in St. Leon sur-Vezere where they play French music, eat, drink and shop for fresh produce. Finally, we checked on our neighbors Blanchette, Mon Ami, Lydia and the fourth cow whose name I have forgotten. One of the cows is pregnant and is due any day, but she did not have her calf by the time we left. We will miss St. Leon sur-Vezere. It is a small, quaint, quiet village of 400 inhabitants, but we have grown very fond of it and the way we were welcomed into the community.

On July 24th, we loaded the car and headed for the Mediterranean Coast, like all the other French. We worked our way to Eze Village, a stone city on top of a mountain on the French Riviera next to Monaco. From our perch on top of the mountain at the Chateau Chevre d’Or, we had a spectacular view of Cap St. Jean Ferrat and Cap d’Ail. It was amazingly quiet on the mountaintop. Yet, we could watch all of the yachts, and there were too many to count, come and go up and down the Mediterranean Coast from Monte Carlo to Nice and Cannes.

On July 30th, we said goodbye to France and drove from Eze Village to Portofino, Italy where we are staying at the Hotel Splendido Mare. Rita did the driving. As you know, she hates tunnels. So, as we left Eze Village I suggested we count the tunnels we had to pass through on our way to Portofino. I guessed there might be 20 such tunnels. Well, three hours later and 218 kilometers later, we arrived in Portofino after Rita had driven through, DRUM ROLL……….. 140 tunnels!!!!     We could not believe it. We averaged a tunnel every 1.5 kilometers.

Today is July 31st, and we are resting another day in Portofino. It is a lovely Italian city on a small port. Although the port is small, the yachts are not. Some of the yachts are over 300 feet in length and have helipads for landing helicopters. One of the yachts, which is tied up in the harbor, is owned by a former partner at Goldman Sachs. He was involved in a $1. 6 billion buy out. I guess that is how you get a yacht. I thought it was interesting that his nickname is Captain Magic! In contrast to Captain Magic, you can also find a gentleman feeding the pigeons on the harbor early in the morning. The world takes all kinds of people.

Tomorrow we head for a destination unknown. We will decide in the morning where we are going when we get in the car. Love the freedom.

We do know where we will be on August 2nd. We will move into our new villa in Greti, Italy. It is 2.5 kilometers from Greve in Chianti, virtually the center of Tuscany. Until then, keep smiling.

Peace and Love.

Norm & Rita.

P.S.  We’ll post pictures soon, our internet has not been quite strong enough to download all the pics!

Visitors, Visitors, Visitors

July 18, 2014 – St. Leon-sur-Vezere

It has been 2 weeks since we have posted. During those two weeks, we have been very busy. On Wednesday July 9th, we got up at 4:30AM and Rita and I drove the 5 hours to Paris so that Rita could meet with French Immigration to complete her requirements for a long-term visa. We had enlisted Alain and Dominique Desmadryl to assist us with some of the more burdensome paperwork required. They were very gracious and helpful to us. After having breakfast with Dominque, (Alain was in the hospital recovering from hip replacement surgery), we drove to French Immigration to take our place in line with many others seeking immigration to France. If you remember, I flunked my first attempt to get my visa a couple of weeks ago. So, we used what we learned from my experience for Rita, and Rita sailed right through French Immigration without any problems and got her long-term visa approved. While I was waiting on Rita to get through French Immigration, I talked my way into the office and convinced them to consider my second application at the same time they were considering Rita’s first application. (I had my second appointment next week, but did not want to make the 5-hour drive back to Paris.) Surprisingly, French Immigration was accommodating to my request, considered my additional paperwork and also issued my long-term visa at the same time as Rita. Whew!!!!! What a relief. We were afraid that we would have to leave France after 90 days if we did not get our visas. Without visas we could not go to Italy for 90 days after our visit in France. That night, we stayed in Paris on the Left Bank at the Hotel du Seine and went to dinner at Au Bourguignon Marais to celebrate. Rita had bouef bourguignon and I had white, red and rose wine from Bourgogne. I also had some great avocado, crayfish and fish along with my wine. The dessert was Berthillon ice cream, the best ice cream in Paris.

On July 10th, my daughter Angela and Rita’s friend Mary Thompson arrived in Paris on the same flight, took the train and the metro to Paris and met up with us at our hotel. We did some Paris sightseeing, which included Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe. We had great cocktails at Fouquets Barriere and dinner at a place Rita found called Chez Toinette in the seedier area of Paris. After dinner, we walked the streets of Paris and ended the night with cognac. My daughter had come to Paris to see us because she has recently become engaged and was excited to share her thoughts and feelings with me. Mary had come to Paris because she had always wanted to see Paris and have dinner in a French restaurant.

Norm saying "It's just a little rain, come on, lets get going!"
Norm saying “It’s just a little rain, come on, lets get going!”
Mary's first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.
Mary’s first sighting of the Eiffel Tower.
Sure, we'll go out sightseeing after an 18 hour trip from the U.S.!! Nothing will stop us!
Sure, we’ll go out sightseeing after an 18 hour trip from the U.S.!! Nothing will stop us!
Waiting on our drinks at Cafe Fouquet's!
Waiting on our drinks at Cafe Fouquet’s!

No 4th of July fireworks here!!!

July 5, 2014 – No 4th of July Fireworks in France….

Today is our 63rd day in France. Having a great time. Yesterday was July 4th in the U.S. with hotdogs, barbeques, and fireworks.   In St. Leon, well actually Thursday, was the first night market of the season, which starts in July.   There was lots of beer, French music, vendors of foie gras, fresh legumes, French creole food and other food and drinks. The population of St. Leon probably had an additional 200 visitors for the night market.   The “tourist season” is in high swing here right now. Tourists are starting to flock to St. Leon. We get new campers every night. This Sunday, there is a festival in our little town and it is rumored to have a lot of activity that day. We were warned to move our car to the entrance of the city if we want to drive it that day, as the streets are blocked off and no cars can get in or out.

Of course, France has a 4th of July also. It is called Bastille Day and will be held on Monday, July 14th. Everything closes down. There is dancing in the streets, lots of food music and fireworks. We are looking for to celebrating Bastille Day in France.

We are also looking forward to new visitors. My daughter, Angela, and Rita’s sister-in-law, Mary Adams Thompson, will be coming in the week of July 10th and staying until July 18th. We are soooo excited to see them.

The past week has been busy. No new births to report this week. But, we did take a road trip. We left on Monday to avoid some rainy weather and drove 4 hours south to the coastal city of Biarritz, which is on the Atlantic Ocean about a half hour from Spain. The weather on the coast was lovely the first day. But, the second day it turned on us and became rainy and foggy. Nevertheless, it was a good visit. Biarritz has a wonderful sand beach that is rare as far as we can tell for France. The entire beach stretches out before a beautiful lighthouse. It also has the Hotel du Palais that was built by Napoleon for his wife Eugenie around 1854. We did not stay there. It was a little rich for my blood. But, we did stay next door to it. The sunset the first night was beautiful.

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But by the next morning, there was roaring surf pounding the rocks in front of our hotel. The first night we got a chance to catch up on Cosmopolitans at the hotel bar. Then, we dressed up and went out to dinner. After dinner we watched the world cup football matches in a bar full of French and German spectators. They are really rabid fans. I guess similar to our Colts’ fans.

Biaritz reminded us of an old beach town in Florida or California. It was rather small, with nice neighborhoods, beautiful churches, narrow streets, markets and lots of outdoor dining choices.

Eglise Alexandre Newsky - Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.
Eglise Alexandre Newsky – Russian Orthoodox Church in Biarritz.

From Biarritz, we headed toward home and away from the rain and stormy weather in Biarritz. But, when we arrived in Bordeaux, two hours later, the sun was shining so we decided to head north to the Margaux, Pauillac, and the St. Estephe wine region of Bordeaux. We took the La Route des Chateaux and photographed all of the best Vineyards along the Route. We saw Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau LaTour and Chateau Haut-Brion. All of these Chateaux are known for producing the best red wines since 1855. Of course, the prices of these wines are astronomical and beyond the reach of most mortals. We saw many of bottles of wines priced at $1,500.00 to $18,000.00! We are pleased with our photos as our souvenirs instead of bottles of wine.

From Bordeaux, we turned east and headed toward St. Leon, but, not without stopping for the night at St. Emilion. We went to St. Emilion last year and loved it. Like Bordeaux, St. Emilion is another wine producing area of France. It is a lovely village of 2000 people and dates back to pre-historic times. It is much smaller than the vineyards we visited in Bordeaux. But, it does have some fantastic red wines.   Some of them are also priced above the reach of mere mortals, but there are some that are quite reasonable. For example, the Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, which sell for an average price of $837 and $689 respectively per bottle, fall into the best of the best. But, good everyday St. Emilion red wines can be had for under $10 per bottle although good ones go for $30 to $50 a bottle.

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While walking around St. Emilion taking photographs, we saw lots of people touring the wine country by bicycle. They average about 80 kilometers a day and ride in groups of 10 to 20. We also take photos by accident whenever we travel. A perfect example is the photo of my leg accidently taken while removing my iPhone from my pocket.

One of numerous selfies I have taken while retrieving my Iphone from my pocket.
One of numerous selfies I have taken while retrieving my iphone from my pocket.

On the final leg of our return trip to St. Leon, we stumbled upon Chateau Monbazillac, just south of Bergerac in the Dordogne, near to where we are staying. It produces all “sweet” dessert wines. So, we have to stop, taste, take photos and buy some wine to take home.

Chateau Monbazillac in the Dordogne area of France where we are staying specializes in sweet dessert wines. So, you start a meal with champagne, move to white wine with your shrimp appetizer, and proceed tothe main course of red wine with your steak, and you can finish off your creme brulee with sweet dessert wine. Did I mention that you cannot drink and drive in France. Don't know how you would get home from the restaurant
Chateau Monbazillac in the Dordogne area of France where we are staying specializes in sweet dessert wines. So, you start a meal with champagne, move to white wine with your shrimp appetizer, and proceed tothe main course of red wine with your steak, and you can finish off your creme brulee with sweet dessert wine. Did I mention that you cannot drink and drive in France. Don’t know how you would get home from the restaurant

In closing, the final photograph on our website should come as no surprise to those of you who know us well. We have decided to stay in France and have started a meal on wheels business. It will be called “Norm’s Cuisine”. Our first delivery truck has been purchased and our logo placed on it. We are checking out French law to see if our truck needs any operating authority. If it does, I will be calling Andy Light for authority advice and Greg Feary for insurance advice. International transportation law is really exciting!

Ah, yes, I have found a new business to keep me busy in St. Emilion. Meal on wheels by Norm Cuisines.
Ah, yes, I have found a new business to keep me busy in St. Emilion. Meals on wheels by Norm Cuisines.

Have a safe week. Next week, we will report on our two visitors Angela and Mary, Bastille Day, Rita’s “first” trip to Paris for her visa interview and my second “trip” to Paris for my interview. Stay tuned. (She’s not going to like the weighing in and eye exam either!!! How do you explain (a/ka/a translate) mono-vision lasik surgery to the French!!)

Dinner the night before we left on our adventure to Biarritz.
Dinner the night before we left on our adventure to Biarritz.
Fish?
Fish!

June 28th, 2014 -A BUSY WEEK AND A HALF IN FRANCE!!!

Bonjour!   Well, you can tell my French classes are working out very well. I am progressing slowly. We have been told by some native English-speaking people who are used to speaking fluent French, that even after 10 years, it is still a struggle to speak in French and think in English. Most of them have plans to retire in a country where English is the native language. They are just plain tired of translating everything. (Especially the jokes!)

Last Friday, we drove 5 hours to Paris so that I could meet with the French Immigration office to complete my Visa Application. We need Visas because we are going to stay in France for over 90 days. I took a medical exam and passed except they said I was too fat. Then, I took an eye exam and they said that I needed glasses, but they didn’t ask me if I wore contacts! I did pass the eye examination. At the end of the day, they asked for my passport photo and proof of accommodations to prove that I have been living in France. They rejected my passport photo even though it is the one in my passport and the identical one accepted by the French Consulate in Chicago when I applied for my Visa. Apparently, they have official photo “cabines” called “Photomation” in France and that is the only photo they will accept. They are similar to our photo booth. In addition, my proof of accommodation was in English and they wanted it to be in French. So, it was rejected also. They rescheduled me for another appointment on July 18th to bring them a new passport photo and proof of accommodation. We spent one night in Paris and drove home the next day dejected for being rejected!

The French Immigration office also finally found Rita’s paperwork this week. They had lost it for over 6 weeks. Technically, she did not exist and was not in France according to their records. But, they could kick her out of France after 90 days if she did not get their approval to be here! Her records were paper clipped to my records and surfaced when I had my meeting with them. So, Rita has to complete her Visa requirements on July 9th.   Assuming we both pass this time, it will have taken us three trips to Paris to get approval. It is frustrating to experience all this bureaucracy, but I understand that the US is even worse!

We at least took a few pictures after dinner!

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

We have had two exciting events this week.

Preparing for our visit with family.

Preparing for our visit with family.

First, Rita’s family from Lille in the north of France, came to visit on Saturday and are staying until Friday. We have Isabelle, her daughter Jasmine (4), her mother Lina and their cousin Yoran (12) in our home. We have been swimming, playing cards, visiting castles, specifically Chateau Puymartin and Chateau Milandes, and enjoying touring small beautiful villages.

Chateau Puymartin and the legend of the lady in white. (Madame Blanc)

Chateau Puymartin and the legend of the lady in white. (Madame Blanc)

 

The Chateau Puymartin has a roof of stone. The stones cost 700 Euros ($955.00) per square meter and each square meter weighs over a ton.   They are laid by hand and are not held in by mortar or cement, but merely by laying one stone against another. It was built in the 12th century. The roof was repaired once with cement in between the stones and it had to be re-done as it did not allow for ventilation and was not good. The owner of the castle caught his wife in an affair and locked her in a tower for 15 years. She never left the tower before she died. He even buried her in this room behind a eucre colored block, which you can see in our pictures. You can rent a room here at this castle as a bed and breakfast place, but they say that if you do, you will see a lady in white, Madamme Blanc…. She comes out only at night. Later, in the 18th century, there was a 40-year fight over the ownership of the castle between a brother and sister and eventually the sister won out. The property is still owned by the original descendant’s.

View of Chateau Milandes from the parking lot across the street.

View of Chateau Milandes from the parking lot across the street.

The other castle, Chateau Milandes was the home of Josphine Baker, an American black woman, who went to Paris in 1925 and became a showgirl, singer, dancer, and a comedic star at the Folies Bergere (being topless probably didn’t hurt her career!) She was the only woman to march beside Martin Luther King at the March on Washington and to give a speech. She was a great humanitarian, got involved with the Red Cross, set up an organized resistance network where she hid arms in the cellar and installed a radio for communications and she carried secret information on sheet music that had been inserted with invisible ink!! She also traveled with Captain Abtey as part of the counter-intelligence services to Marrakesh, Africa, Maghreb, Libya, Egypt, Beirut, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon to spread the word of Free France. She was awarded a second lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary of the French Air Force, a Medal of Resistance, and was given the Legion of Honour award and the Croix de Guerre as she had worked risking her life for 5 years during World War II.

We received our cooking lessons this week from Lina. She is a really good French cook. We had wonderful salad dressing, polenta with gruyere cheese, rice salad and a vegetable tarte and a tuna/broccoli tarte; All of which we will be making again, soon. Hope they turn out!

 Secondly, our neighbors had a baby!!! We were all awakened by our neighbor’s cows that live next door by loud, continuous mooing. Rita thought that I had gotten up and went out side to talk to them, as I do everyday by mooing to them. After an hour of this annoying mooing, we decided to check it out and we learned that one of my cows that I say Bonjour to every day her had a baby calf “en plain air” as the owner/farmer told me in French. Now we know why this particular cow had a purple hair band on, we thought it was the hippie of the group! It was really funny because the birth was met with such excitement by the entire village of 400 residents and day visitors. They would line up across the street from our Maison to take photos of the new calf. Rita was surprised that the calf was standing and walking within a few hours of birth. “Neither Stephanie nor Missy did that” she said! But, then she was also surprised that the birthing mother went about her normal daily routine of walking and grazing immediately after giving birth with the little calf nursing on her as she walked and grazed.

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Well, I think I have caught you up on most of the things that have been going on at Green Acres in France. We are having fun. Experiencing the language, food and culture. So, all in all, it is a good trip. Check out our photos to see the things discussed above.

Paris Skyline including Eiffel Tower from the rooftop restaurant of the Holiday Inn St. Germain de Pres.

Paris Skyline including Eiffel Tower from the rooftop restaurant of the Holiday Inn St. Germain de Pres.

Notre Dame at night

Notre Dame at night

We think this is what the French do when there is no water in the fountain and sunny skies above!

We think this is what the French do when there is no water in the fountain and sunny skies above!

The Dordogne countryside from the top of Chateau Puymartin.

The Dordogne countryside from the top of Chateau Puymartin.

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The hand-laid stone roof of Chateau Puymartin.

The hand-laid stone roof of Chateau Puymartin.

The Chateau Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker.

The Chateau Milandes, the former home of Josephine Baker.

Chateau Milandes from the front.

Chateau Milandes from the front.

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Beautiful palm trees at Chateau Milandes.

Beautiful palm trees at Chateau Milandes.

They had a bird show after our tour, (had NOTHING to do with the castle) but we decided to watch it! Here is an eagle coming towards us! Look out!

They had a bird show after our tour, (had NOTHING to do with the castle) but we decided to watch it! Here is an eagle coming towards us! Look out!

Isn't is amazing how close he is?

Isn’t is amazing how close he is?

Another view

Another view

 

Yohan handling this big creature!

Yohan handling this big creature!

Hey Mary (Mary R) .... Is this my Owl????

Hey Mary (Mary R) …. Is this my Owl????

Or is it this one?

Or is it this one?

Or is this my Owl???? We yelled his name, "Owl" and he turned around for me to take this picture!

Or is this my Owl???? We yelled his name, “Owl” and he turned around for me to take this picture!

View of another castle nearbyPuymartin in the background. They are everywhere!

View of another castle nearby Puymartin in the background. They are everywhere!

Norm trying to hold her back, yeah right, that's not going to work!

Norm trying to hold her back, yeah right, that’s not going to work!

Jasmine playing with her new duck friends!

Jasmine playing with her new duck friends!

Fresh Paella at the market in Sarlat!

Fresh Paella at the market in Sarlat!

Mother and calf are doing fine! The population of St. Leon-sur-Vezere has just increased by one.

Mother and calf are doing fine! The population of St. Leon-sur-Vezere has just increased by one.

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

Standing, walking and eating within the first 24 hours!

 

Norm and Lina in the Le Source Garden.

Norm and Lina in the Le Source Garden.

Le Source ( the restaurant) has a new friend for Jasmine... Meet Anna Sophia!! Yeah, I'd say she has a princess name too!

Le Source ( the restaurant) has a new friend for Jasmine… Meet Anna Sophia!! Yeah, I’d say she has a princess name too!

The most beautiful garden setting for our dinner!

The most beautiful garden setting for our dinner!

At our last celebratory dinner with Lina, Jasmine, Isabel and Yoran!

At our last celebratory dinner with Lina, Jasmine, Isabel and Yoran!

Whitefish dinner topped with crayfish! AMAZING!!!

Whitefish dinner topped with crayfish! AMAZING!!!

Free Range Pork dinner!

Free Range Pork dinner!

Here's how you say it Rita.... TROIS!

Here’s how you say it Rita…. TROIS!

Here is Jasmine's facial expression trying to show me how you pronounce "trois"! TWA!! I still can't do it right!

Here is Jasmine’s facial expression trying to show me how you pronounce “trois”! TWA!! I still can’t do it right!

Dessert!! So Pretty! and Yummy!

Dessert!! So Pretty! and Yummy!

Anna Sophia telling us goodnight! Bedtime calls.

Anna Sophia telling us goodnight! Bedtime calls.

Lina, Isabel, Jasmine, Rita and Norm... Bye Bye!!

Lina, Isabel, Jasmine, Rita and Norm… Bye Bye!!

Saying good bye to Yoran, Lina, and Jasmine!

Saying good bye to Yoran, Lina, and Jasmine!

June 15, 2014. French Impressions—Week #6

Six weeks, or forty-two days, we have been in France. This week we got to see the Chateau Clarens, which is next door to our maison, up close and personal, but only from the outside. It has been beautifully restored, with formal gardens, a swimming pool and a view of the river Vezere.   The owners were away this week and their property manager invited us to do a walk around. It is 5 stories. The rumor in the village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere is that the Chateau is for sale, but no one knows how much the owners are asking for it.

Chateau Clerens

Chateau Clerens

On Tuesday, we took a cooking class at Le Chevrefeuille, which is a hotel and restaurant (more like a bed and breakfast or what they call a “Gite” here in France) which is about 7 km away from St. Cyprien, a small village nearby. The class was taught by Ian, who is English, but started the hotel a few years ago with his English wife Sara. Le Chevrefeuille means honeysuckle in French. The hotel is small, lovely, well maintained and looked after by Ian and Sarah. We only had one other couple in our class. They were Matt and Amanda, a very nice young couple from Australia, but have lived all over the world in the last 12 years.

The class started with a visit to the fresh market at La Bugue, another small village, nearby us. Each of the villages has a fresh market day. At the market, we bought goat cheese, “fromage de chevre”, which was only one day old from the farmer who raises the goats. We also bought mushrooms, “champignons”, from the vendor who searches the woods for them, finds them and then sells them in the market. Next, we bought fresh vegetables including cauliflower, “chou-fleur”, flat beans or broad beans, “feve”, and peas, “petit pois”. Ian knows all the vendors, speaks fluent French and, of course, the whole shopping experience is a social event, more than a shopping trip.

The last thing we bought was foie gras. The foie gras was 36 euro or about $50 US dollars per kilo, which is 2 ½ pounds. Thus, foie gras is about $20 a pound. Foie gras is goose liver. But, it is a liver from a goose that has been forced fed corn until its liver is six to ten times its normal size. France is the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, where it is considered a delicacy. The procedure of force feeding the geese is very controversial and many countries, and most noticeably the state of California recently, have banned the sale of foie gras. When the foie gras vendor was explaining to us the procedures for force feeding the geese, she said in very broken English that the geese were “force fed” and then changed her sales pitch to just “fed” to be more politically correct.

After shopping for about two hours, we returned to the hotel kitchen and began preparation of our dinner. We started by making a dessert of individual chocolate molten lava cake using lots of fresh vanilla. Then, we made a tri-colored salad of avocado, which is “avocat” in French, peculiarly the same word as “lawyer” in English, fresh tomatoes and the fresh goat cheese we bought in the market.

Our Green Salad

Our Green Salad

See the rest of our cooking class photos. After completing the salad, we made mini-cups of “veloute de chou-fleur”. This is a deliciously, thick cauliflower soup made of chicken stock and liquefied cauliflower, rather than cream, butter and flour. Next, we made green olive tapenade by blending capers, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and green olives. For the next course, we quickly fried the foie gras in its own duck fat. Finally, we prepared “confit du canard” which is the leg and thigh of the duck broiled and then shredded. Of course, Ian had prepared a wonderful sauce made out of the mushrooms, stock, wine, and some chestnuts and we used the broad beans and the pois as the healthy sides. To accompany the food we prepared for dinner, we had white and red wine. The class lasted for 7 and a half hours and was a wonderful introduction to French cooking.

On Wednesday, we went to Les-Ezyies, another small village close to us for lunch. The restaurant had a beautiful garden. Les Ezyies is built into the limestone rocks and around the caves where those pesky little Troglodytes lived. We are looking for trolls, but have not seen any yet. On the way home, we drove by beautiful castles like the Chateau de Marzac in our photo section. Finally, as we approached our village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere, we watched the beautiful sunset.

The rest of the week was spent on personal maintenance, meaning cooking, cleaning, shopping, and eating. We also take turns at the pool, pretending we are Zonker Harris, the Doonesbury character, who was a professional tanner. The pool has been wonderful since the temperature had climbed to 30 degrees Celsius, which is about 86 degrees Farenheit.

On Friday, we returned to Le Chevrefeuille for fish night, invited by our new-found friends Matt and Amanda from our cooking class. A lot of the restaurants around here don’t have a set menu, they just prepare whatever they get at the market that day.  So Matt and Amanda pried the secret menu out of Ian and let us know that is would be a Friday fish fry!  Rita, being the Catholic that she is, has been to many lenten fish fry’s in her days, was all excited about fried fish, like lake perch or cod, in bread crumbs, hush puppies, French fries and maybe a little slaw on the side. But, the meal was a little more French than that. We had salmon, and some wonderful appetizers, vegetables, cheese, dessert and wine.  It could have been a Michelin Star resaurant meal!! We ate on the patio and had a wonderful evening with good food and good conversation. If you want to know how small the world is, anouther couple sitting at the table next to us  – met and attended school at DePauw in Greencastle.

Imagine that!

Well, that is all for now. We have found an old movie channel on our TV that shows movies from the 80’s and movies based on true stories, so we are getting ready to watch “The Outsiders”.   Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and Emilio Estevez.

OH BOY! How do you say “popcorn” in French???   ….

 

P.S. Happy Birthday Bella!! Wow, 15 !! Soon you’ll be driving!

 

Week Six of French Impressions

Here we are with Ian putting on the finshing touches to our green salad we all made in class! Thank goodness Ian didn't ban our iPhones!

Here we are with Ian putting on the finshing touches to our green salad we all made in class! Thank goodness Ian didn’t ban our iPhones!

Here we are with Matt and Amanda on the left and Ian on the right side of Rita looking over the fois gras stand at the La Bugue market.

Here we are with Matt and Amanda on the left and Ian on the right side of Rita looking over the fois gras stand at the La Bugue market.

Here is Ian pouring the cauliflower soup into these tiny cups! Another use for the many espresso cups in France. Just enough to wet your appetite and not get to full to enjoy the dinner.

Here is Ian pouring the cauliflower soup into these tiny cups! Another use for the many espresso cups in France. Just enough to wet your appetite and not get too full to enjoy the dinner.

Here is the duck after it had been roasted in a very hot pan for about 20 minutes and we are shredding it.

Here is the duck after it had been roasted in a very hot pan for about 20 minutes and we are shredding it.

The beautiful gardens at Les Glycine resaurant in Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil.

The beautiful gardens at Les Glycine resaurant in Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil.

Lez Eyzies built into the limestone rocks.

Lez Eyzies built into the limestone rocks.

Such a beautiful little village street.

Such a beautiful little village street.

Chateau Clerens

Chateau Clerens

See the magnitude of the Chateau?

See the magnitude of the Chateau?

Sunset on our way home from our dinner with Matt and Amanda at Ian and Sara's place.

Sunset on our way home from our dinner with Matt and Amanda at Ian and Sara’s place.

Castle "Chateau de Marzac"

Castle “Chateau de Marzac”

June 8, 2014. Impressions from France.

Today we start week two in our house in St. Leon-sur-Vezere. The week has passed by quickly. We have been settling into our house trying to get used to the way of French country life as perceived by two Hoosiers. As an update to last week’s blog, our allergies are better. We are both on French over the counter drugs. We like the French pharmacies. Our allergy medicine costs us about $5 a week. Rita says at CVS the medicine would run us $25. We are still learning new French words not learned in French class. This week we learned: la tapette a mouches which is flyswatter, because we had to buy one for the house since we have no screens and the doors and windows are open much of the time; le brouillard, which is fog because the mornings are foggy; and une coupe, la couleur and les meches because Rita needed a cut, color and highlights this week.

We are trying to get into the French way of life, but we have suffered some setbacks. Last Sunday, we did things around the house in the morning. Then, we got dressed up and went to the grocery store. Unfortunately, we arrived at 2:30 PM and the grocery store closes on Sunday at 12:30 PM! We also have to get used to buying our bread each day. The bread, called baguettes, is baked daily and available for purchase at the boulanger, the bakery, before 8:00 AM. If we don’t go to the boulanger by noon, we don’t get fresh bread because they run out. Then, there is the boucherie, or butcher shop, where the meats are cut and sold fresh daily. They close in the afternoon and are only open a few hours in the morning and again a few hours in the evening. Finally, if you want fresh fruit, le fruit in French, or fresh vegetables, les legumes in French, you don’t buy them at the grocery store, you buy them at the fresh market which is held one or two days a week in the villages.

This week we bought some really fresh eggs, see the photo of the feather in our egg carton. We visited Perigeaux and saw the beautiful byzantine cathedral Saint-Front see photo. Perigeaux is about 45 minutes from us and has a population of 30,000. It also has a medieval section with many restaurants and timbered houses. In our village, we there was a la petanque tournament. There must have been 100 people in our village of 400 who came to play. La petanque is also called boules and is similar to bowling. See photos.

Our nearest village of any size is Montignac. We went to the fresh market in Montignac yesterday to buy strawberries. Dordogne is the strawberry capital of France, cherries and raspberries. Then, we ate pizza for lunch at an outdoor café riverside along the Vezere River. The riverfront is well maintained and beautiful. We took another canoe ride on the river. This one did not end well either. I guess I shouldn’t let Rita steer the canoe. See photos.

One day we drove to Hautforte, France to see the Chateau Hautforte. We only toured the perimeter of the Chateau and took photos which we have or will post as soon as Rita gets around to it ( J K). But, it was impressive. It was first occupied in the year 1000! One of the owners was Baron Henry de Bastard. What was his parents thinking??!!

Another day, I was homesick for an American hamburger so we stopped at Le Tourny, a small café in Montignac so I could satisfy my homesickness. See photo of my burger. It came with a cooked egg on top. Actually, it was pretty tasty! And, of course the French fries, called frites, are always excellent. Watch out McDonald’s!

While we are out driving around, we try to visit some of those one hundred most beautiful French villages so we can cross them off our bucket list. This week we visited St. Amand-de-Coly. (Damn, I get tired of typing village names with hyphens.) It is dominated by a Romanesque fortified church which you can see in our photos. The walls of the church are 12 feet thick.

Next, we continue to be baffled by the French supermarket where we go for all of our entertainment. They don’t have self scan lines. They don’t have cash only lines. They don’t have “less than 10 item” lines. You also bag your own groceries and, if you want to be truly French, you don’t get your money out to pay until all of your groceries are bagged and put in your “caddie or chariot” French for grocery cart. Of course, all of this contributes to long lines at the checkout. It is so funny to watch people stand in line and observe all of this. It shocks us that it is not more efficient, but “c’est la vie.”

Finally, I have placed in our photos an aerial view of our village. The Chateau and Church stand out as landmarks in the photos. Our house is right next door to the Chateau, but it is not in the photo sorry. No we did not take the photo from a hot air balloon, but we wish we had. It is a photo of a photo on the wall at the town hall or Marie in French.

Next week, we take our first French cooking lesson. We hope to blog on French cooking next week.

We have re-read our blog above. I thought it was from Green Acres and Rita thought it might be from the Beverly Hillbillies. What do you think?

Impressions from  St. Leon sur Vezere, Haute-Fort  and Montignac!

 

 

Aerial view of St. Leon-sur-Vezere with our next door neighbor's Castle and our landlord's Castle.

Aerial view of St. Leon-sur-Vezere with our next door neighbor’s Castle and our landlord’s Castle.

Hamburger is hiding under the egg! It is on a bun with all the trimmings. Only the egg was unexpected.

Hamburger is hiding under the egg! It is on a bun with all the trimmings. Only the egg was unexpected.

Rita is no longer in charge of steering the canoe!

Rita is no longer in charge of steering the canoe!

Petanque tournament in St. Leon-sur-Vezere.

Petanque tournament in St. Leon-sur-Vezere.

Perigeaux's Cathedral Saint-Front. Byzantine architecture.

Perigeaux’s Cathedral Saint-Front. Byzantine architecture.

See feather in egg carton? Those are really fresh eggs!

See the feather in our egg carton?  Those are really fresh eggs!

 

This would be considered a modern front door here in Montignac! We like them all!

This would be considered a modern front door here in Montignac! We like them all!

We liked this home because it was a corner lot.

We liked this home because it was a corner lot.

Here is a typical front door in Montignac.

Here is a typical front door in Montignac.

Had lunch on the river bank in Montignac.

Had lunch on the river bank in Montignac.

Just a little street we walked by in Montignac.

Just a little street we walked by in Montignac.

Saint Amand-De-Coly

Saint Amand-De-Coly

Haute Fort

Haute Fort

 

View of a few of the resaurants in Montignac.

View of a few of the restaurants in Montignac.

 

 

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower!

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower!

Our favorite lady, Notre Dame. I visit is not complete without paying a visit to Notre Dame..

Our favorite lady, Notre Dame. A visit is not complete without paying a visit to Notre Dame..

View from our hotel on Rue de Seine.

View from our hotel on Rue de Seine.

Les Deux Magot Cafe. Yes, it is called the two magots. No visit to Paris is complete without having an aperitif or two here on the left bank.

Les Deux Magot Cafe. Yes, it is called the two magots. No visit to Paris is complete without having an aperitif or two here on the left bank.

Our wonderful French family going back to 1968. Dominique, Alain, Aude, Yann and me.

Our wonderful French family going back to 1968. Dominique, Alain, Aude, Yann and me.

Same group, without Dominique, but with Rita.

Same group, without Dominique, but with Rita.

We drove to the French Riviera, St. Raphael to check out a house to rent. We stayed at this hotel on the beach.

We drove to the French Riviera, St. Raphael to check out a house to rent. We stayed at this hotel on the beach.

A rare sand beach on the French Riviera at St. Raphael.

A rare sand beach on the French Riviera at St. Raphael.

This is the main square at Sarlat la Caneda.

This is the main square at Sarlat la Caneda.

A timbered building in the old town of Sarlat.

A timbered building in the old town of Sarlat.

A quaint street scene in Sarlat.

A quaint street scene in Sarlat.

Market days are Saturday and Wednesday in Sarlat. This is an artisan bread maker. We eat lots of fresh bread and none of it is Wonder Bread!

Market days are Saturday and Wednesday in Sarlat. This is an artisan bread maker. We eat lots of fresh bread and none of it is Wonder Bread!

You want fresh fish? This is the place. The market in Sarlat. Just cut the heads off before you cook!!

You want fresh fish? This is the place. The market in Sarlat. Just cut the heads off before you cook!!

How about fresh produce? There is plenty to go around in Sarlat market.

How about fresh produce? There is plenty to go around in Sarlat market.

Rita loves potatoes and white asparagus is in season!

Rita loves potatoes and white asparagus is in season!

In addition to food, the Sarlat market has other vendors. In this photo, the vendor is selling umbrellas.

In addition to food, the Sarlat market has other vendors. In this photo, the vendor is selling umbrellas.

We did a weekend in Brittany after Sarlat. This is the beach at La Baule. Notice the nice sand!

We did a weekend in Brittany after Sarlat. This is the beach at La Baule. Notice the nice sand!

Evening was coming rapidly when we snapped this photo on the beach at La Baule.

Evening was coming rapidly when we snapped this photo on the beach at La Baule.

A photo of our hotel in Dinard on the North Coast of Brittany. Our Megane is the first car you see in front of the hotel.

A photo of our hotel in Dinard on the North Coast of Brittany. Our Megane is the first car you see in front of the hotel.

The beach at Dinard. Notice the low tide and wide sandy beach.

The beach at Dinard. Notice the low tide and wide sandy beach.

A photo of our hotel in Dinard on the North Coast of Brittany. Our Megane is the first car you see in front of the hotel.

A photo of our hotel in Dinard on the North Coast of Brittany. Our Megane is the first car you see in front of the hotel.

No trip to Brittany/Normandy is complete without paying a visit to Mont St. Michel. It is incroyable.

No trip to Brittany/Normandy is complete without paying a visit to Mont St. Michel. It is incroyable.

We had lunch at La Mere Poulard a famous omelette restaurant in Mont St. Michel.

We had lunch at La Mere Poulard a famous omelette restaurant in Mont St. Michel.

We spent the first day of Rita's birthday at this hotel in Brantome in Dordogne. A great location.

We spent the first day of Rita’s birthday at this hotel in Brantome in Dordogne. A great location.

This is one of the modern showers we blogged about. It has two rain shower heads and jet sprays on the sides. It also has a sign about saving the world by not laundering towels each day!!

This is one of the modern showers we blogged about. It has two rain shower heads and jet sprays on the sides. It also has a sign about saving the world by not laundering towels each day!!

Modern, or Contemporary Vanity, with towel warmer for those cool mornings.

Modern, or Contemporary Vanity, with towel warmer for those cool mornings.

A great chocolate dessert for Rita's Birthday.

A great chocolate dessert for Rita’s Birthday.

Dordogne is known for Foie Gras. Foie Gras is goose liver. It is really good. Yes, I know there is an ethical question about the forced feeding of geese. But, when in France it is hard not to partake.

Dordogne is known for Foie Gras. Foie Gras is goose liver. It is really good. Yes, I know there is an ethical question about the forced feeding of geese. But, when in France it is hard not to partake.

Rita and I tried canoeing one day. It did not end well!

Rita and I tried canoeing one day. It did not end well!

This is a privately owned Chateau (Castle) we ran across in Dordogne.

This is a privately owned Chateau (Castle) we ran across in Dordogne.

This is a pizza place in Sarlat with live music where we had dinner one night.

This is a pizza place in Sarlat with live music where we had dinner one night.

This is Rita in Sarlat buying produce in the market for the first day in our house. She used a lot of pointing.

This is Rita in Sarlat buying produce in the market for the first day in our house. She used a lot of pointing.

To the left of our car is a limestone cave that our hotel was using as a parking garage! We didn't go into the cave. We were afraid there may be troglodytes in it!

To the left of our car is a limestone cave that our hotel was using as a parking garage! We didn’t go into the cave. We were afraid there may be troglodytes in it!

The first view of our house in St. Leon sur Vezere for the next 9 weeks. Rita did well. So far, so good.

The first view of our house in St. Leon sur Vezere for the next 9 weeks. Rita did well. So far, so good.

This is the main house. It has four bedrooms and 4 baths You are welcome to come visit us.

This is the main house. It has four bedrooms and 4 baths You are welcome to come visit us.

Photo of main house with pool, covered of course.

Photo of main house with pool, covered of course.

Photo of living room.

Photo of living room.

Photo of kitchen with Chef.

Photo of kitchen with Chef.

Photo of master bedroom. No screens or air conditioning. You have to make choices. It does have a heated pool.

Photo of master bedroom. No screens or air conditioning. You have to make choices. It does have a heated pool.

Photo of master bath.

Photo of master bath.

This photo shows the name of our house and our nearest neighbors in the background.

This photo shows the name of our house and our nearest neighbors in the background.

This photo is of our landlord's gatehouse which is located right next door.

This photo is of our landlord’s gatehouse which is located right next door.

Photograph of a home in St. Leon sur Vezere.

Photograph of a home in St. Leon sur Vezere.

We are in Maison de Clerans. This is Chateau de Clerans, the Castle which is owned by our landlord and located right next door to us!

We are in Maison de Clerans. This is Chateau de Clerans, the Castle which is owned by our landlord and located right next door to us!

This truck is parked inside a home at St.Leon sur Vezere where it is being used to rehab an existing home.

This truck is parked inside a home at St.Leon sur Vezere where it is being used to rehab an existing home.

This is a photo of our delicatessen. It is just one of 4 restaurants in St. Leon sur Vezere.

This is a photo of our delicatessen. It is just one of 4 restaurants in St. Leon sur Vezere.

May 31, 2014

Today is Saturday. We have completed one full week in our French house. The first 5 days were pretty overcast and rainy and cool. Not a great start to our first week, but it could have been worse. The weather has started to improve. We are approaching the 70s and the sun is now waking us up in the mornings. That is the good news.

The bad news is that with the nicer weather Rita and I are noticing that being in a rural setting has brought on our allergies. We do have itchy red eyes, runny noises and sneezing. Hopefully, this will be short lived.

The first week has been spent on personal maintenance. We go to the market almost every other day because we want fresh produce, meat, fish and chicken, but also because the refrigerator is European style which is only half the size of its American counterpart. Every other day, we have also stopped by the Inter-Marche or Carrefour, which is France’s answer to Walmart. It takes us an hour to shop because everything is located in a different area than where it would be in a US supermarket. In addition, we shop with a dictionary so that we can look up words describing foods we did not learn in French class. For example, we did not learn the word for “flour” which is “farine”. We did not learn the words for “2% milk” which are “demi-ecreme lait”. We did not learn “buttermilk,” which is “lait battu” or “babeurre”. When the dictionary does not work, I stand around and look lost until an English person fluent in French comes along, notices me, and offers to help! Sometimes, this is much faster than the dictionary and besides I am learning to be an expert at looking lost in French!

Yesterday was farm day in Sarlat. All the nearby farmers brought live animals into the village, I guess so that you young French children could have a petting zoo. There were pigs, cows, ducks, turkeys, goats, and chickens. It reminded me of Old MacDonald and got me wondering if there was a French equivalent. I think there is, but it might be “Monsier Dupont a une ferme et dans cette ferme il y a un chien” etc.

The house has worked out lovely so far. We do have some unwanted visitors at times. There are flies because we have no screens. We also have an occasional bee. Of course, Rita’s favorites are the daddy long legged spiders.   Naught!! Last night, we had a bird, but fortunately a cat came along and the bird disappeared. I know “How you gonna keep them down on the farm….”

I started my French lessons on Thursday. My instructor comes to the house and her name is Patricia Mongendre from nearby Montignac. She asked me what I wanted to do for my first lesson and I said I wanted to practice conversational French. So, she responded, in French, “what would you like to speak about? Please start.”   We spoke to each other while sitting at the kitchen table for an hour. It is probably the most French I have ever spoken. I am looking forward to my next lesson.

Next week, we hope to be over our allergies and to take day trips to the various nearby villages. There are at least 8 of the most beautiful villages in France within 30 minutes drive of us. Yes, there is a contest each year, and the French vote and choose the 100 most beautiful villages. Hopefully, we will have some more photos for you then.

 

Have a great day. –Norm and Rita

May 26, 2014. St. Leon-sur-Vezere

Today is Monday. It is Memorial Day in Indianapolis. Yesterday was the Race. We were able to listen to the Race live on WIBC. It was exciting.   We both missed being at the Race. My parents never missed a Race when they were alive. I went to almost all of them during my adult life. Of course, Rita went for many years before she became associated with Andretti Autosport, so the day was very sentimental for us both. Being from Terre Haute, I always looked forward to the singing of the song “On the Banks of the Wabash” which was written by Paul Dresser who was born in Terre Haute. It was especially significant this year since Jim Nabors was signing the song for the last time. No matter what you think of Gomer, he can really sing that song. And, of course, we both like to watch the release of the balloons. My daughter Angela was born during the 1973 Race. So, the Race is very special to me, Martha and my daughter. Angela went to the Race this year for the first time since she was a child. She said she enjoyed it and had a great time. She even rode her bicycle to the Race!! Lets hear it for Ryan Hunter-Reay for winning the Indy500, and Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, all Andretti team drivers.

Today, Rita and I ventured out to do our grocery shopping to an Inter-Marche, an all purpose grocery store.   The store was very big, very nice and had a great selection of items. It was not too much different from a WalMart except the people working the check out get to sit while they work. Also, you put money, a dollar thirty-seven, into a lock to release a shopping cart and get your money back when you return the cart. The store had some American products like Heinz Ketchup, Coca-Cola, and Knorr’s bouillon cubes. But, the majority of the products were strictly French.

This is our second full day in the house. It rained all day. So, we stayed inside. Rita worked on finding us a place to rent in Tuscany. I worked on my beauty sleep. I was successful. Rita has a few promising leads, but nothing in hand. We watched cooking shows from England, Nigela Lawson, and then cooked dinner together. We had chicken, rice and a salad. Dinner was very good. So, were the Cosmos, which were homemade and less than $22 each! 

It is kind of chilly here in the mornings and evenings. We had the owner of our house turn on the heat for us. We are also doing laundry after being on the road for 21 days.

My comment on the French today is that all of our hotel bathrooms have had signs saying to save the world by not laundering towels each day so that our precious water will last longer. This is a very laudable goal, but the message seems to me mixed since most of the hotel bathrooms have multiple showerheads and multiple jet sprays using more water for showering than any laundry of towels would use. 

It is also interesting to us that the French regulate everything except what you think they should regulate. Just one example is that in Dordogne, where we are staying, all swimming pools must have a black liner. But, there is no regulation requiring on how hot the water in a faucet may be. There seems to be no limit. The water is as hot as those special hot water faucets in the US that are used for soup or tea. We have almost burned ourselves several times. 

BTW, what do you know about troglodytes? We seem to be in the center of where they were invented or, at least discovered. Troglodytes are cave dwellers. They are known to be short in stature, brutish and ugly except to other troglodytes. In any event, we are in the center of Troglodyte country. There are lots of caves and cave drawings in this area. The most famous are 17,000 years old and are located in Montignac, which is 15 kilometers away. We keep watching for Troglodyte crossings on the roads, but have not seen any up to now. We will keep you advised.

Tonight we are watching the French Open on TV. Just watched an exciting 5 set match. Last week, we caught some of the Cannes Film Festival. Yesterday, we watched the end of the Monaco Grand Prix. There is always something going on here.

Well, pray that the rain will stop. If it doesn’t, send us a boat. The Vezere River is a rising. St. Leon-sur-Vezere is not on high ground.   –Noah and Naamah. Although the Bible does not name Noah’s wife, Jewish tradition says her name was Naamah, which means the “Beautiful” and was a descendant of Cain.

 

 

May 25, 2014. We are Homeless No More …and now the dream begins!

It is our 22nd day of our dream trip to France and Italy. We have been looking for a home to rent in France for six months. We decided to not book from the U.S. over the Internet because the Internet can make anything look good. We wanted to see the houses in person before making our decision. So, we came to France with high hopes of seeing homes up close and personal before making our decision. Well, that did not happen. It sounds easy, but it is much harder than you think. In addition, we found that by the time we started looking in France most of the better houses in our price range were gone. We were feeling pretty depressed about the house hunting, but Rita continued her research for countless hours and located one home she really had to have. But, the owners were not available to decide whether they wanted to rent their house for this season. At the last minute, about four days ago, the owners became available, decided to rent their home, and we took it sight unseen.

The front of our new home.

The front of our new home.

And here is our backyard, the pool cover is ON, the doors open to a large barn with ping pong, darts, fusseball table.

And here is our backyard, the pool cover is ON, the doors open to a large barn with ping pong, darts, fusseball table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The home has four bedrooms, four baths, a kitchen, living room (which they all call “the salon”) and a heated swimming pool. It is located in the village of St. Leon-sur-Vezere in Dordogne, France. The village is very tiny. I think 400 people live here. It has a church, is located on the Vezere River, a bread depot, a small grocery store and maybe three restaurants. Our neighbors on one side are farmers who have cows and bulls in their fields right outside our gate as we exit our house. The neighbors on the other side are our landlords. They live in a CASTLE with walls and turrets and everything your mind can imagine from Cinderella!! Yes, it is called Chateau de Clerans and our house next door is called Maison de Clerans.

Our landlords castle, at least what we can see of it!

Our landlords castle, at least what we can see of it!

Our neighbors on the other side! For real!

Our neighbors on the other side! For real!

“Clowns to the left of us,

Jokers to the right…”

“Here we are…,

stuck in the middle with      you!!”

Anyone remember this  song?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen

Kitchen

 

The "Salon"

The “Salon”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the 4 bedrooms

One of the 4 bedrooms

Dining area

Dining area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got possession of the house last night. To prepare for possession, we went to the market in Sarlat to buy groceries. It is a very large market selling fresh farmer produce, cheese, meats, poultry, fish, pate, foie gras, and flea market arts and crafts. We bought cheese, wine, pate, jambon (ham), baguette (bread), and stuff like olive oil, red wine vinegar, butter, eggs, etc. It was fun shopping in Sarlat. But, it did take awhile because each merchant specializes in primarily one item. So, we stood in line for cheese. We stood in a line for pate, we stood in a line for fresh produce, etc. We also had to practice up on our grams and kilograms because that is the way the food is sold. Rita and I asked ourselves what happened to the American initiative many years ago to convert ounces and pounds to grams and kilograms???   In any event, we ended up with more of some items and less of others that we wanted until we got the system down. (You have guessed that our system involved our thumbs and forefingers squeezed closer or farther apart to indicate the quantity we wanted!!) You also have to appreciate that shopping in France is a “social event”. It takes a long time because shoppers and shopkeepers kibbitz (I don’t think that is a French word) about the day, weather, politics, kids, quality of the produce, etc. It is sheer happiness to watch the shoppers and shopkeepers smile, laugh and actually enjoy shopping.

Heres a few of the sites we saw on our way, via Brantome, (because we left a key fob there from a few days ago) so we had to go back and fetch it.

This is a private home we are driving by, so we stopped to take a few pictures of it.

This is a private home we are driving by, so we stopped to take a few pictures of it.

 

Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn’t it gorgeous?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With food in our Renault, we drove to our village to see our home. Of course, we got lost. But, we were only lost for about 10 minutes. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe that the house was exactly as represented on the Internet. Everything is perfect. Rita did a great job. Our host Beth O’Reilly showed us the house and how to use all the appliances and gadgets and then we were alone, in our house, and not a hotel for the first time in three weeks. We immediately did a closer inspection of the house and confirmed again that we could not have done better. We unpacked for the first time in three weeks, because the hotel rooms have been too small to unpack in and put our things away. And, then we headed off on foot to the village for dinner. The village is really quaint.

 

Yes, this is a truck squeezing through these buildings on this very narrow road in our village.

Yes, this is a truck squeezing through these buildings on this very narrow road in our village.

Our beautiful village.  St.-Leon-sur-Vezere, France

Our beautiful village. St.-Leon-sur-Vezere, France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Sunday morning. Rita has figured out how to use a French press coffee maker. We are sitting at the kitchen table while I write this post and Rita is checking airfare and train schedules for family and friends who may want to visit us. We are comfortable, relaxed, and ready to start living the dream. French lessons begin this week for me. We will start looking for a local person to teach us French cooking also.

Thanks to everyone who helped us get to this point in our travels. A special thanks to the Desmadryls, Alki who encouraged us at our lowest emotional point with sage advice to be patient and everything would work out, and family and friends too numerous to name here.

More to come. BTW, the West-Kardashian wedding was wonderful. It was great seeing all our friends Anjoelina, Brad, George, Harrison, Julia, Lindsey. We will send photos as soon as we find a place to develop the film.

Oh, and just a quck picture of our littlest granddaughter at her first dance recital!  (These were texted to us on our drive up to the house)

She's the one in the middle with the PERFECT arms!! (of course, LOL)

She’s the one in the middle with the PERFECT arms!!            (of course, LOL)

Her favorite part was when "everyone clapped for me!"  Uh oh, look out Hollywood!

Her favorite part was when “everyone clapped for me!” Uh oh, look out Hollywood!

 

 

May 20, 2014. Dinard, France on the Brittany North Coast

Yesterday we left La Baule, on the Brittany South Coast and we drove through rolling green hills, serene pastures where white cows were grazing, and lots of apple and pear orchards to Dinard, France on the North Coast of Brittany. Interesting fact of the day—Alfred Hitchcock used a mansion on the bay at Dinard for his model of the house in Psycho his 1960 big movie hit. There is a statute erected to him on the town square with him being attacked by birds which was his 1963 movie.

 What I learned yesterday. I have always been in charge of finding hotels. Rita has always been in charge of driving; and we share responsibilities for finding restaurants. It is called “division of labor”. But, yesterday I could not decide between two hotels on the beach in Dinard. One was $300 a night with no free Wi-Fi and the room was basic without a view of the Atlantic Ocean. The other hotel was $200 a night with free Wi-Fi and an Ocean view and an upgrade from the basic room. So, I asked Rita to go into the latter hotel and see if the less expensive hotel (I did not say cheaper on purpose) was acceptable. If so, I thought we could save a $100 on our budget since we were over a $100 yesterday. Well, Rita went in checked out the hotel and came out and reported to me that it was acceptable to her. So, we unpacked the car and moved into the hotel where I learned that she chose a suite for $400 a night. Rita is no longer responsible for hotel selection. I asked her what she was thinking when I sent her into the hotel to see if we could save $100 and she came out with a room costing $100 more than the room under consideration in the more expensive hotel. With all the wisdom of a woman’s logic, she responded that it was my fault because I was using Internet rates and Internet rates did not apply to walk-ins. Also, there was no ocean view in either of the other rooms. To use an Andy Light phrase, “Rita, you baffle me”!

I do have some good news. After 7 days of trying to book a house, which honestly seemed like two weeks to Rita and a month to me (I am less patient than Rita), we were able to book our first choice. The house has 4 bedrooms and a heated pool. It is located in St. Leon-sur-Vezere, Dordogne, a rural area, in the middle southwest of France. It is one hour from Bordeaux and probably 3 hours from the French Riviera. We move in on Saturday. Now the dream begins in earnest! Hopefully, we can set up some French lessons for me; and some cooking lessons for the two of us. We have plenty of room if you want to come and visit us. We will be in St. Leon until July 26th. WE ARE TERRIBLY EXCITED TO BECOME A PART OF A FRENCH VILLAGE!

 This is my comment of the day on French hotel bathrooms. First, they are bathrooms where one takes a bath. If you want to go to the toilet, you go to the water closet, which is in an entirely different room from the bathroom, usually down the hall. Second, the bathrooms have all been extremely modern or contemporary in design. They have rain showerheads, jet spays coming at you from all directions, handheld sprays and no doors on the shower. They have electric towel warmers, hair dryers that require you to hold a button down to make them run or else they will stop when you release pressure on the button (not a big deal, but your finger does get tired before your hair is dry and for the life of me I cannot figure out why they make hair dryers in hotel bathrooms this way, maybe my friend John Barth can answer this question for me since he has spent 30 years in the beauty business selling, among other things, hair dryers), and very stylists sinks and faucets. I am not use to all the whistles and bells. I usually end up getting squirted in the face from all the jet sprays. In addition, the bathrooms rarely come with washcloths. I don’t know what the French use in their place. Surely, they don’t use their hands? OMG! Finally, soap has been rare in bathrooms with bath gel substituting for soap. I have not figured out how to use bath gel without a washcloth. I think it takes lots of practice.

 Well, we are off to Le Mont St. Michel today. More later.

May 19, 2014—La Baule, France, Brittany

We left Sarlat in the Dordogne area of France yesterday and decided to go on a short drive. The weather was beautiful, 81 degrees, so we headed to the Atlantic Coast. After a short, 7-hour drive, we arrived in La Baule, France that is on the Atlantic Ocean. The drive was mostly through farmland. There were plenty of cows and a few sheep. The farms were very large. The highways were well maintained and very clean. Maybe the highways are clean because the French are not suppose to eat or drink anything while driving to comply with its laws. Traffic moves along at good pace. I think we cruise around 80 miles an hour and sometimes top out at 95 miles per hour. The drivers are courteous and patient. But, they all drive very fast. When you pull out into the passing lane, you better check your rear view mirror and be ready to floor it because cars can, and do, come up on you very quickly. So, you don’t pull out into the passing lane unless you are ready to boogey.

 We did make one stop on the way to La Baule. We walked around the fort and old port of La Rochelle. La Rochelle was having a festival so there were many families out strolling around the city enjoying the nice weather. La Rochelle has an ice cream store called Earnest le Glacier. It is located in the old port area and we had learned of the store from Yann Desmadryl.   So, we looked it up and there was one long line to get into the store, but we decided to wait in line and are glad we did. I had vanilla and chocolate fudge brownies. Rita had crème brulee and white chocolate. The ice cream was soft, but not as soft as gelato. It was also very creamy with a lot of flavor. In fact, Rita and I are willing to call it the best ice cream we have ever had. So, thank you for the recommendation Yann.

When we entered La Baule yesterday, we passed a long line of stopped cars on the other side of the highway. The line was over 14 miles long! When we arrived in La Baule, we were told that some pony jumping event, which draws large crowds from around the world, had just ended and thus the long line of cars stopped on the highway working their ways home. La Baule has a nice long sand beach. The sand is light brown to white. It is a real pleasure to find such a beach in France and is such a change from the pebble beaches that you find on most, but not all, of the French Riviera beaches. The ocean front boulevard is surrounded with apartment and condominiums, but most are only 4 to 6 stories high. The beach is dotted with little restaurants where you can eat with your feet in the sand if you choose.

We are staying at the Hermitage. We always choose our hotels by location, then price. We rely primarily on tripadvisor.com and hotels.com. They are usually pretty good sources, but like anything you have to read all the reviews, positive and negative, very carefully to avoid being surprised. We have tried to use tripadvisor.com for restaurants, but we do not believe it is as reliable a resource for restaurants as it is for hotels. One problem is that when you show up in a restaurant recommended by tripadvisor.com, you seem to be sharing the restaurant with English speaking tourists who have read the same restaurant reviews that you have read. So, you end up eating with English, American, Australian and Canadian tourists instead of with locals. Finding restaurants preferred by locals is much more difficult to find. But, we do make the effort and occasionally find a pleasant surprise restaurant where only the locals eat.

Last night, our hotel bar had cosmopolitans. We were pretty parched since we had gone almost a week without our favorite cocktail because cranberry juice is almost impossible to find in France for some reason that is unknown to us. It is odd since French bars offer other less popular drinks regularly such as sex on the beach and manhattans which are on every bar menu. Therefore, we have been drinking mostly wine. So, in the lobby bar we downed two quick cosmos to relax us from the 7-hour drive. The cosmos were served with mixed nuts, olives, tapenade and cashews gratis.   When we went to leave the bar, we learned that the four cosmos were $95 USD or $23.50 each. Since we are on a daily expenses budget, we shot half of our meals budget on the two drinks or all of our daily miscellaneous expenses. We may have to give up drinking cosmos! Or, eat half as much or eliminate miscellaneous expenses!

Well, we are still homeless, but trying everyday to locate a house to rent. Either the houses do not please us or the ones that please us are too expensive or when we find one we like and it is not too expensive, it is booked. We have used just about every website on the Internet to locate a house. It is a long slow process burning up about 4 to 5 hour of research each day. We know now that we should have booked a house much earlier. We did not consider that in peak season most of the great locations would be taken. Oh, well, we are not looking for sympathy. As Alki always says, the Marine Corps told its recruits that if you want sympathy, you will find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. The Marine Corps is right. But, we did want you to have a flavor for what we are doing on a daily basis in France. We are not just sitting around eating bonbons. Travel is hard work.

 It is noon and we are ready to hit the road again. We have no destination planned. We normally get in the car, look at each other, and then look at a map of France and start discussing places on the map within a one-day drive that we think we may want to see. Once we have reached a consensus, we type in the destination on the GPS and our day begins afresh in search of new adventures and dreams. A bientot. –Norm and Rita.

The Dream. The Reality. The Gut Check.

May 15, 2014. St. Raphael, French Riviera, France.

When I was a young boy growing up in Terre Haute, my father spoke GI French at the dinner table that he had learned from being stationed in Paris, France during the big War, to end all wars. This experience caused me to dream that one day I too might be able to travel to France. Well, I have been blessed and have had the opportunity to travel to France several times in my life. But, the dream changed with age and time and the dream evolved over my lifetime from traveling to France, to live in France for an extended period of time. This year, I looked forward to implementing the dream by living in France, taking French lessons to improve my French and taking cooking classes to share in the French love of food. That was the dream. It was vague and fuzzy as most pleasant dreams are. There was a vision of a French farmhouse, fields of lavender, forests, nearby villages, and great farmer’s markets. What the dream lacked was definition. Now that we are in France we are struggling with how to make the dream a reality.

We have looked for our farmhouse online for six months to make our dream a reality. While there are many websites, friends and families willing to assist us with our search, the search has been more difficult in reality, than either of us would have ever imagined. First, you have a budget. That is reality. The chateau in the forest and the villa overlooking the French Riviera are not on our budget. Next, you have to choose an area, and in reality, you have to build a foundation under your dream. We thought we wanted to rent a home in Dordogne France known for its woods, markets and foie-gras. But, we questioned whether 3 months in such a bucolic setting would be too peaceful and quiet. So, when we left Paris on Tuesday, we abandoned the dream of a farmhouse in the forests and went for the bright lights of the French Riviera with iPad and Mac in hands searching for a villa by the Mediterranean Sea and a little more excitement than Dordogne. Our first stop was Avignon, a nice walled city in the south of France approximately an hour from the Mediterranean Sea. The Popes resided in Avignon for about 70 years and built churches, cathedrals, bridges and a lasting relationship with the French people. But, it was just an overnight stop for us. Our next stop was St. Raphael, which is directly on the Mediterranean Sea. We inspected a house, a mile from the Bord de Mer, which had four bedrooms, a swimming pool, in a gated community that needed codes to get in and out of, and, was within our budget. But, as we drove around the area, there was lots of traffic, no farmer’s markets, no forests, and seemed to be filled with hustle and bustle which obscured our dream. We spent the evening discussing the pros and cons of renting in St. Raphael, or somewhere else in France, which would more nearly fit the dream. After our gut check last night, this morning we have decided to go back to our original plan and drive 7 hours to Dordogne to see if the reality and the dream match there. More to follow.

Norm and Rita

Paris, France May 5th to the 12th

We left Indianapolis for Detroit at 4:00 PM on Sunday, May 4, 2014 on Delta.  The flight was 45 minutes of light chop.  Rita thought it was very bumpy. At 6:00 PM, we left Detroit for Paris, France.  We arrived in Paris at 8:30 AM.  The entire flight was bumpy; and Rita got very little sleep on the plane. But, the sun was shining in Paris when we arrived and it was a beautiful 70-degree day.  The taxi ride from Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris was bumper-to-bumper traffic, took an hour and cost $115.  We noticed two things right away about the commute.  First, everyone was very patient. We never heard a horn. Secondly, we noticed that no one changed lanes frequently.  It took us a few kilometers to learn why.  The motorcyclists use the “space” between the lanes so changing lanes would have been a reckless maneuver.

We are staying at Hotel de Seine on rue de Seine in St. German de Pres on the left bank in the sixth arrondissement for under $300 a night.   This is the artists and student section of Paris. It is a very chic area with lots of bars, cafés and restaurants.  Our hotel room has two rooms, a bedroom and a bathroom. The rooms are very tiny although typical for Paris. We would guess that the bedroom is 15 x12 and the bathroom is 5 x10. We have no place to put our suitcases or really unpack so we are working out of our suitcases on the floor. Speaking of suitcases, I brought my carry-on suitcase from last year, but Rita won our “discussions” and brought a much larger suitcase this year.  So, this year’s rule is: “You brought it.  You carry it.” And, she has!  (Upon arrival at Indpls airport when they weighed HER luggage, it was overweight at 60 lbs!)

Today is Sunday and we have been very busy since our arrival. Most days we walk; and walk; and walk some more.   We are not so much sightseeing, although we have seen the major sights, as absorbing the culture and observing the French people who we find beautiful, friendly and helpful when help is needed. Since we have not been concentrating on seeing the sights of Paris, we have been freed from the obligation to take photographs of every sight for the purpose of recording our trip and/or sharing our trip with family and friends.  This freedom has been exhilarating and has allowed us to be better observers of French life. It has also allowed us to enjoy some smaller slices of French life that we might have missed if we were rushing here and there to take the perfect photograph.

We spent one evening with our French friends Alain and Dominique Desmadryl who drove to Paris to host us at an old French restaurant specializing in authentic French food called Chez Denise.  It is the first restaurant we have visited that did not have a menu in English or a waiter who spoke some English. The restaurant was packed on a weeknight and sitting immediately behind us in the restaurant was Jean-Paul Belmondo, one of France’s most popular “older” movie stars.  Rita ordered beef, which came on a skewer; and I ordered steak tartare. But, Dominique ordered “brains” and Alain ordered “kidneys”.  One of us tasted both (guess which one) and found them pleasant tasting, but would probably not make a habit of ordering them again anytime soon!  After dinner, we taxied along the Champs Élysées, which was beautifully lit at night, around the Arc de Triumph, which is France ‘s tomb of the unknown soldier, and then to Cafe de Flore, an historical literary haunt of writers such as Hemingway, Satre, Camus, Beavoir and my law partner Tom Farrell, for a nightcap.

Another evening was spent at La Cuisine Paris, where we joined 7 other tourists to try our hand at making a French dinner.  The chef instructor was very helpful, as well as patient, while assisting us with preparing a strawberry-rhubarb tarte, asparagus wrapped with French ham, a tomato and red pepper sauce and tapenade stuffed chicken breast.  It was a delightful evening to learn about the French through, what else, French food and wine.  A very enjoyable evening we would recommend to anyone who visits Paris. One of the tourists in the cooking class was a grandmother who was raised at 70th and Pennsylvania streets in Indianapolis!  It is truly a small world.

Saturday we spent the day with Yann, Peggy, Aude, Cheyenne and Tinael Desmadryl. They took us to the top of the Montparnesse Tower to see the view of Paris from their tallest building, 56 floors, but….. you can also go to the 59th floor and view the city from the open air observation deck! Everyone went up to the 59th open-air deck but Rita, she stayed on the 56th floor and took more pictures. Then of course, as we are leaving to hang out with our friends, it starts to rain, so we decided to get a crepe or coffee. Our first stop didn’t have any crepes so we bribed the children with ice cream. We were waiting for the rain to slow or stop, and again, as we left it was nice and started to rain again after about 10 minutes. So we decided to find a place to eat and start out slow to enjoy the evening. We ate at La Rotonde and had a three hour dinner, let me tell you, we cannot believe how well mannered and good the children were for this length of time!! They were content, ate their meals, (Cheyenne, who is 9, ordered raw smoked salmon, which came with blinis and loved it.) Of course, after such a long dinner, and since the kids could not have been better, they got to have dessert for the second time! We’re sure they’ll remember Norm for that!

Rita has spent all of her spare time in the mornings and evenings trying to find us a home to rent in the south of France for June and July. It has proven to be much more difficult than we thought it would be.  Many homes are large enough to accommodate a family of four, plus brothers an sisters, nephews and nieces and grandparents because the French tend to vacation as a family unit.  Other homes have a pool, but no air-conditioning, or have air-conditioning, but no pool.  A heated pool for Norm does not exist. Some homes are too expensive while other homes are unacceptable because of their condition or location. Nevertheless, we have honed in on 3 or 4 leads and hope to select one before we leave Paris on Monday, May 12, 2014.

In conclusion, we will share some bits of French culture we have learned so far on this trip. Dogs are everywhere, including the restaurants;  the French people go out of their way to help you with friendly advice; French men are every bit as fashionably dressed as the French women; fresh food, locally sourced is the basis of every meal; lunch is long and a part of the established social fabric of France; the French enjoy their neighborhood bars, cafés, bistros and brasseries where they not only enjoy good food and wine, but share the experience with their friends and neighbors; food is expensive, our breakfast of two orange juices, one coffee, and two omelets with a small side of potatoes and salad was $84.

Rita will post pictures soon.

 

Love and miss you all!  Rita and Norm

 

We finally arrived to the city of the Eiffel Tower!

We finally arrived to the city of the Eiffel Tower!

Our TINY room! Who cares when you are in Paris!

Our TINY room! Who cares when you are in Paris!

This little gal was dancing away in the streets right on the corner of our street.

This little gal was dancing away in the streets right on the corner of our street.

What we walk out to each day from our hotel room. Seriously, this is only about 6 steps away!

What we walk out to each day from our hotel room. Seriously, this is only about 6 steps away!

We love the activity in our little neighborhood!

We love the activity in our little neighborhood!

This is your typical "cafe after cafe" in our neighborhood, we love this!

This is your typical “cafe after cafe” in our neighborhood, we love this!

We bought our breakfast here.

We bought our breakfast here.

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Paris so soooo fashioable! Even the cars are dolled up!

Paris so soooo fashioable! Even the cars are dolled up!

 

This building blew us away!

This building blew us away!

If you can enlarge this, please do so. This is how they cover the buildings while they are rehabing them. Notice the top where the picture is drawn to match the building!

If you can enlarge this, please do so. This is how they cover the buildings while they are rehabbing them. Notice the top where the picture is drawn to match the building!

This is the street we walked down to our cooking class, every street is beautiful!

This is the street we walked down to our cooking class, every street is beautiful!

 

This is the view from the top of the Montparnasse Tower!

This is the view from the top of the Montparnasse Tower!

 

Hotel des Invalids in the background.

Hotel des Invalids in the background.

Here We Go Again………………….

The travel sirens have called to us again.  Last year, we went around the world in 184 days and visited 30 countries.  The purpose of the trip was “sightseeing”.  We wanted to see for ourselves, up close and personal, those places in the world that take your breath away when you see them in a photograph , video or movie.   The round the world trip was everything we thought it would be.  We saw breathtaking man made sights like the Sydney Opera House, Angkor Wat,Hagia Sophia, the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Chartres , the Colosseum in Rome as well as natural sights  such as the Swiss Alps, the Austrian Lake District, the Mediterranean Sea, the Seine, the Danube, the Croation Coastal Islands, The Bosphorus Straits, the Chao Phraya River,  Waiheke Island , Moorea and Bora Bora.

This year, we want to immerse ourselves in the culture of a country to get to know it the best you can as a visitor.  We are not thinking “EAT, PRAY , LOVE”.  It will be more like, “What is this on my plate? ” ” Did you miss the turn again?”  and  “Think I should pee?  No, it will only be a short drive.”  We have chosen France and Italy.  Our plan is to leave on May 4, 2014 and return on November 1, 2014.  We will fly to Paris and spend a week or two.  We hope to see our French friends, Alain, Dominique, Yann, Peggy and Aude.  Then, we will  rent a car and drive to the south of France where we plan to find and rent a house for 3 months.  Our preference would be to locate near a small village or villages where we can visit the local farmers’ markets, take French lessons and cooking classes.   Then, assuming we can tear ourselves away from the south of France after 3 months, we hope to drive to Tuscany, Italy and do the same things all over again–rent a house, take cooking classes and who knows maybe take Italian lessons.  Of course, like our trip last year, we have made no advance plans after Paris and renting a car.  Our plan is to go to wherever the travel sirens call us to go each day.

We are hoping to share this adventure with as many of our family and  friends that will come to France and Italy to stay with us.  We would be happy to provide you with a place to sleep and share some food and wine with you.   Of course, your airfare will be on you!  Come and see us.  It will be fun. For planning purposes, we will be somewhere in France in June and July and somewhere in Italy in August and September.

So, this weekend we are “practice packing”.   We are “discussing”  luggage, do we take carry on luggage only like we did last year or something larger?  We will let you know who wins or how we compromise.  The “discussion”  is not only over carry on luggage, but also over whether we check our luggage, and that may depend upon whether we take TSA approved quantities of shampoo, conditioner, cologne, perfume, shaving cream, contact lens solution, and all those bottles and containers of mysterious liquids that are suppose to make us beautiful, or buy all of these liquids, creams and gels once we get to Europe.

We hope that if you can’t visit with us in France and Italy, you will follow us on our blog.  We would love to have you and would love to hear from you often.  So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show.   Love,  Norm and Rita

 

 

 

 

 

WE ARE HOME!!!

December 1, 2013  – Indianapolis, Indiana

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“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his own pillow.”  Lin Yutang

Well, we have been gone 184 days.  Our dream trip of a lifetime can be summarized by the following numbers:

34—The numbers of flights we have taken

71—The number of hotels that allowed us to stay in them.

5—The number of train rides we have taken.

14—The number of ferry trips we have taken.

13,052—The number of kilometers we drove in Europe.

30—The number of countries we have visited.

32,962—The air miles we have traveled.

12,200—The number of photographs we have taken.

6819—The number of photographs Rita’s iPhone could hold before having to delete any.

8712—The number of hits we received to our blog.

1356—The number of solitaire games Rita played on my IPAD.

13—The number of solitaire games Rita won.

We have seen breathtaking sights and captured them in photographs on our blog, including:

Fatima

Melk Abbey

Lake Bled at night

The snow capped Zugspitz

Neuschwanstein Castle

Ronchamp

The Jung Frau Mountain

The Susten Pass in Switzerland

Positano

Lourdes

St. Emillion

Chambord

Eiffel Tower

Chartres

Brussels Grand Place

Drive from Oslo to Bergen

The Kremlin and St. Basil

The Diocletian Palace in Split

Dubrovnik from Mount Srd

The Taj Mahal

The Lake Palace

Bangkok from the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of Lebua

Ta Prohm

View from Villa in Phuket

The Skyline in Singapore

The 12 Apostles

Waiheke Island

Sunset on Aitutaki

View of Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay from Belvedere

The lagoon at Bora Bora

We have also had our share of adventures which we captured in photographs and shared them with you on our blog, including:

Seeing the Royal Family

Visiting Scotland, the home of my ancestors

Wandering the Djemaa El Fna

Walking out on the Maria Bridge

Driving the Susten Pass

Driving the Amalfi Coast

The ride from the airport to our hotel in Istanbul

Visiting Samos, Greece

Traveling the highways everywhere in India

Elephant Ride

Camel Ride

Driving the Great Coast Highway

Wine tasting in New Zealand

Lagoon Tour and Snorkeling on Aitutaki

Wave runner tour of Bora Bora Lagoon

Finally, we shared our trip with our European family and friends as well as those of you who followed our blog, including:

Lisel Scharf and her family

Anne Scharf

Isabella S. Zanella and her family

The Popot/Desmadryl Families, Dominique, Alain, Yann, Peggy, Aude, and the grandchildren

Everyone has asked for our thoughts and feelings on the trip.  First, it has made us appreciate family, friends, faith and our home, Indianapolis.  We could not have done this trip without the love and understanding of our families.  Friends gave us support and encouragement throughout the trip.  We were constantly reminded everywhere we went how important our faith is to our day-to day lives and how it connects us to others around the world whether we worship God, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Vishnu or some other supreme being.  And, home, well that is where our hearts are; and we are fortunate to call Indianapolis our home where most people are good, decent, and honest, hardworking, and a pleasure.

The most rewarding thing to us about the trip is that we set a goal, and we accomplished that goal.  That is immensely satisfying to us.  It is an accomplishment that few people can claim as their own.  But, we can make that claim.  We dreamed of going around the world.  We made a plan to go around the world.  We successfully completed that plan.  It was no easy task to plan and execute successfully 34 flights in 184 days to 30 countries without a mistake.  That is an extremely rewarding feeling.  It warms our hearts to know that our efforts have met with successes beyond our wildest dreams.  While we made substantial sacrifices to make our dream successful, we never looked back once to second-guess our decision.  No matter what the future holds for us, we will always have the memories.

Norm – I could not have made this trip without my faithful companion Tonto.  Tonto’s original responsibility was to be in charge of IT.  But, she ended up being in charge of the budget, finances, expenses, cell phones, iPad, MacBook, TV remotes, light switches in hotel rooms, cameras, blog, nursing, cheerleading, driving, electronic toll booths, ATM machines, boarding passes, pop culture, decisions on dinner, face timing, and everything else I am not good at.  Thomas Jefferson said:  “One travels more usefully when alone because he reflects more.” Ernest Hemingway said: “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.”  Mark Twain said: “I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out if you love people or hate them, than to travel with them.”  Personally, I think they are probably all right.   I could not have made this trip without Rita, nor would I have wanted to do so.  Rita was the best traveling companion.  We spent 184 days together, 24/7, and when we were not out and about sight seeing during the day, we were together in a hotel room at night that was approximately 400 to 600 square feet!  In other words, we shared one room, not a whole house, with each other as most of you do with your loved one, for 184 nights.  As one of Rita’s close friends warned her before she left: “Do you know that you will be with Norm every second of every minute of every day for 184 days!”  There was no place to hide or get away from each other.  But, we never had a fight or a serious disagreement.  Try spending six months with your loved one in basically one room of your house sometime!

Rita – I’ve got to say that first of all, I never imagined in all my lifetime that I would ever take a trip around the world.  Remember from the very beginning, on the “about us” page, I never daydreamed; I was always too busy studying, working, or raising two girls on my own.  When I had “down time”, I usually caught up on sleep.  LOL!  But in the last several years I’ve had an inkling of what dreaming was all about and watched first hand how you can turn those dreams into reality.   Well, this was one heck of a reality!  Going on this trip was the most amazing adventure anyone could imagine.  Being able to experience the culture in all of the cities, seeing the religious sights, castles, mountains, the people, the traffic, and oh yes… the food, was more than anyone could ever imagine.  I have to admit that some of the destinations on our agenda, I had NEVER heard of prior to this trip.  But, even so, I was willing to travel to them and see what they were all about.  None have disappointed, every place was fascinating in its own way.

I still cannot pinpoint a “favorite” place, because all of them were very special in one way or another.  I would have to say that meeting my Aunt Lisel and her family and being able to see the house my mother grew up in and the town where she was raised, Aunt Anne, who entertained us with her singing and dancing, Isabelle and her family, who welcomed us into her mothers home in Lille, had a wonderful dinner with them and a look at their town, which we found to be really a sleeper city with a lot to offer, is very high on my list of the great moments of this trip.  The visits to Fatima, Lourdes and Ephesus would be next on my list, as those places were overwhelming with all the religious history.  Participating in the evening walk at Lourdes was something we didn’t even know about and turned out to be a very special and touching experience.  Walking through the streets and on the same steps as St. Paul in Ephesus and being able to walk through Mary’s house was another moving experience. “Life if not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. –  Maya Angelou

Now about traveling with Norm…. I’ve got to tell you all that he is a walking GPS.  I cannot tell you how many times I would walk out of our hotel room and turn the wrong way just to get to the elevator!  Then, as we would walk out of the hotel, onto the street, I would do the same thing!! I am so geographically challenged, that I would have never made it to the first airport correctly without my personal GPS! He is also very good at picking hotels based on their location.  We would walk out of one, and he’d say… “Yeah… the restaurant is up two blocks over there on the left”.  Wow!! How did you know that??? Well, when researching where to stay, he always takes into consideration, the restaurants nearby, things to see and do and anything else on our agenda for that certain city.  There is much more time involved in this part of the preparation than you would think.  It takes months to figure out all of the logistics of this type of travel.  Maybe he could be a travel agent.  He’d be perfect! I certainly appreciated all the work he put into this trip even before we boarded our first flight!

One thing I wished I could have accomplished was to have Norm take off his watch.  I think because he has always counted his time, it may be something that he will always do.  He gave me the countdown on everything, like “7 more hours till our flight”, or  “8 more minutes till we take off”, but mostly it was more like “we were supposed to depart 11 minutes ago!”  I’m still not sure if it has to do with the timekeeping habit or because he wanted a nice tan line where his watch was!

Traveling with Norm was very, very easy, (except for the carry-on luggage part). Ironically, we had to check our luggage almost always, as our American carry-on is much larger than European carry-on standards! Other than that, being with him for 6 months, in close quarters, every minute of every day was a breeze! I am very grateful and appreciate being able to enjoy this journey with him.  I’d do it again without a doubt!

I must share one of the funniest experiences! The first time we went to the ATM to withdraw money, I’m showing Norm how to punch in his secret code, pick the denomination that he wants, hit the green “enter” button, and wha la… your money comes spitting out of the machine! He was so tickled by that and could not believe how easy it was to just walk up to a machine and have it give you money!! Norm, at 65, had NEVER used an ATM prior to this!  “It just gives you money??”  Was what he kept saying as we were walking away, shaking his head.  I can’t imagine living without an ATM machine!!

In addition to the people we’ve thanked below, I would like to personally thank Michael Andretti, JF Thormann and John Lopes for allowing me this time away from Andretti Autosport to take this wonderful journey with Norm.  They were all very understanding and very supportive even though I was leaving them without someone to step in for me.  We immediately enacted a plan and found someone to take over for me quickly, which eased the transition for both of us.   It gave me a huge relief knowing that they would be taken care of while I was away.   It was very hard for me to give up the racing life, as it gets in your blood, and it took me a long time to NOT think about whether all those contracts were getting done, but eventually, I did get the hang of relaxing and enjoying this most awesome adventure.

Thank you so much for that!

“Regrets? …I’ve had a few.”—Frank Sinatra.  We were within 10 minutes of Pompeii and chose to push on to Monaco, rather than tour Pompeii.  That was a really bad decision.  After driving all day, we chose not to spend the night in St. Tropez and pushed on till midnight to stay in a bad hotel in Sete.  That was a stupid decision.  We regret that we hit Paris during a heat wave making it impossible to walk the city.  We missed wandering around the streets of Paris.  In Bangkok, we ran out of time to take the Hangover Tour.  We regret that very much.  In Phuket, I did not have a chance to take a day trip to Phang Nga Bay, because of Rita’s illness.  After Phuket, we had to decide whether to turn north to Laos, Vietnam, China and Japan or go south to Singapore, Bali, Australia, the Cook Islands and Tahiti.  It was a difficult decision to make.  We chose the southern route.  I am not sure we made the right decision.  Time will tell.  In New Zealand, we did not have time to see the South Island.

Thank you’s are owed to our children and grandchildren Angela, Jada, Kyle, Mandy, Kayla, Connor, Stephanie, Ben, Annabelle, Tyler, Missy, Bob, Isabella, Owen and Brody for sharing us with the world.  It was difficult to leave our families behind, but they have been very supportive of us.

A big thank you is owed to the firm for making this trip possible.  It has been very supportive and encouraging from my first emotional meeting with Greg to discuss my desire to do this trip before I got any older.   I sincerely appreciate the help you have given to me while traveling, the way you jumped in to make this trip possible and the way you serviced my clients while I have been traveling.

Finally, the trip would not have been possible without Anne Messer, who helped us in innumerable ways while we were gone.  Thank you Anne.  Thank you Shane, Joe, John and Dawn who helped me replace my phone after it drowned while swimming.  Thank you Kim who helped me with the transfer of money while traveling.  Thanks to Lynne and Pam for their helpful travel tips on Melbourne and Bora Bora.  Finally, last, but not least, we would like to thank Alki for urging us on and being one of our biggest supporters and cheerleaders.  And, a big thank you to all who emailed us and placed comments on our blog. There were tough times on this trip and your emails and comments gave us encouragement to keep going.

As we enter the month of December, we will be especially appreciative of family, friends, faith and music and the part they play in our lives.  These were the things that were reinforced in Rita and me again and again in every country visited and every culture we observed.  To have a happy life, fulfilled and loved, we need family, friends, faith and music to sustain us, challenge us and nurture us.  These things can keep us healthy and young and will comfort us as we prepare ourselves for our next life.

Happy 12th birthday to Jada Garvin.  Next year you will be a teenager!!  Enjoy your day.

This blog will be dedicated in memoriam to my best friend Jim Poshard, who died 30 days after we left on our round the world adventure.  He went with me everywhere on this trip and was at home to greet me when I returned.  You will be missed, but never forgotten.  Love ya man!

“That’s all folks”.  THE END.

Norm & Rita

Oh… It’s a Christmas Miracle!!

Our house has Christmas lights on the outside, all done and lit up when we came home, and walked inside to find all of our kids who weren’t at the airport at our house and the whole inside is decorated for Christmas!

GOD BLESS OUR KIDS!!

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Tahiti, Papeete, Moorea and Bora Bora

November 21 – 30, 2013

We arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, one of the French Polynesian Islands, on the 21st.  It is a city of 300,000 so it is easy to forget that this is some people’s vision of paradise.  There are lots of cars, people, highways and shopping in Papeete, the capital.  When we arrived at our hotel, we got a pleasant surprise.  We got bumped up from our regular room to an overwater bungalow (“OWB”) with a view of Moorea, another French Polynesian Island we intend to visit later in the week.  We didn’t  have much time in Tahiti, two days, so we wasted no time renting a car and Rita drove 100 kilometers around the island. The highlight for us was to see the Memorial/Museum to Paul Gauguin, a famous French impressionist painter, who chucked it all, a successful job as a stockbroker, a wife and 8 children, at age 43 to pursue his passion, which was painting, in Tahiti.  Of course, when we arrived at the Memorial/Museum, it was closed for repairs.  But, the remainder of the trip was still interesting.  We saw waterfalls, blowholes, a lighthouse and some great beaches.  When we returned to the hotel, we went to see a Polynesian Dance Show.  It was excellent with a lot of performers doing traditional hula style dancing.  I hear that Indy is under a cold spell right now, 19 degrees.  We are having 84 degree weather.  Sorry about that; but not too sorry!  

On the 23rd, we moved from Tahiti to Moorea.  Moorea looks more like what I think a South Sea Island should look like.  Of course, my vision of a South Sea Island is based upon seeing the movie South Pacific when I was 10 years old.  In the movie, there was this island called Bali Hai which was lushest green in full techni-color, beautiful bays, craggy mountain peaks and beautiful beaches.  Well, fast forward 55 years and you have Moorea with lush green craggy mountains and beautiful harbors like Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay.  We rented a car and drove the entire island which is only half the size of Tahiti and which has a population of just 13,000.  There is a great overlook on the island called Belvedere which allows you to see a full view of Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay at the same time separated by Mount Rotui.  A spectacular place to visit for the view, but because the view is so expansive, photos from Belvedere do not do the view justice.

It was interesting to talk to Mooreans who profess to be self sufficient.  Many of them have gardens year around because of the climate, and grow their own vegetables.  When they are not working, they fish.  Some told us they catch 90 pounds of fish, fillet it and freeze it and it sustains them for 3 months.  It seemed like the soil and the sea really provide for these people who have relatively few wants,  a lesson there for all of us.  Conquer your wants, know your needs, live in the present and be happy, don’t worry! 

On the 25th, we returned to Papeete and caught a short flight to Bora Bora, which has a population of 8000 full time residents.   This is our last stop on our round the world adventure so we will be permanently signing off soon.  We have no idea what it will mean to us to end our journey, but we will spend 5 days in Bora Bora contemplating our trip, what it has meant to us and our hopes for the future. We will post our photos of Bora Bora which will primarily be about motus, snorkeling, Mount Otemanu a/k/a “Bird Catcher”, the lagoon and the fact that everyone thinks this island is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, if not the most beautiful island in the world.  We are staying in an OWB at the Four Seasons.  This was our big splurge to wind up our trip.  When we got here, they bumped us up to a Mount Otemanu view OWB, rather than a lagoon view.  When we took our first walk to see the resort, we had not walked 50 feet and saw a stingray in the water swimming under the bridge to our OWB.  It was really cool!  The grounds are magnificently manicured.  The Sunset bar serves great sushi and other things for Rita to eat.  The cosmos were the best we have had on the trip.  (I think we say that every time we have one!) They have a lot of activities at the resort. We are trying to narrow down our choices.  Thinking about a wave runner ride around the island and a sunset cruise.

Tuesday evening we took our resort’s boat into Viatape, the main and only city on the island of Bora Bora.  We ate at the Matira Point Restaurant. Had a pleasant meal of salmon and mahi mahi both of which were caught that day.

On Wednesday, we went snorkeling and laid on the beach in the afternoon.  We saw a lot of fish while we snorkeled and fed them bread. But, they moved so quickly that they were hard to take photos of.   In the evening, we took a sunset cruise with Rinaldo, a 33 year old Dutchman, from France who came to Bora Bora with his wife to follow their dream of scuba diving.  Ah, to be so young again.  The sunset was spectacular. 

Thanksgiving day we had breakfast in our OWB.  We sunned on our deck.  Then, we had a Thanksgiving Buffet with all the trimmings.  But, unfortunately all the trimmings did not include mashed potatoes, green bean casserole or pumpkin pie.  But, the traditional cosmopolitans were fantastic, all four of them.  We are truly thankful and know we are blessed and wish to share our blessings with others. 

Friday, we can’t believe this is our last full day of vacation.  It has gone so quickly and the reality of returning is starting to set in.  Rita arranged a wave runner trip around the island.  That was really fun.  She is as fast on a wave runner as she is when she drives.  37 miles per hour on water seems a lot faster on a wave runner than it does in a boat.  The water was crystal clear, Mount Otemanu was green against a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and the trip took about two hours.  We had a great time.  Tonight we had dinner at St. James in Viatape.  We had tuna and beef tenderloin.  Thus, ended not only our last dinner in Bora Bora, but also our last full day of vacationing.

When we return to Indianapolis on the 1st we will post our thoughts and feelings regarding our trip to share with you.  Thanks for following along.  See you soon.  Love Norm & Rita.

Our last stop was Tahiti, Papeete, Moorea and Bora Bora.  Here are the pictures from our last stop.

Well, it started out great, as we got upgraded to this! and only b/c the hotel was sold out!

Well, it started out great, as we got upgraded to this! and only b/c the hotel was sold out!

our sand pool.

Our sand pool.

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Cute little bridge we had to walk over to get to the waterfall.

Cute little bridge we had to walk over to get to the waterfall.

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We felt like we were in a Hollywood movie.. Miami Beach in the 60's!

We felt like we were in a Hollywood movie.. Miami Beach in the 60’s!

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Our live entertainment!!

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Moorea! We stopped along the way to our hotel to catch a view of this side of the island.  Looks beautiful!

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View from Belvedere of Cooks Bay!

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Panoramic view from Belvedere with both bays!

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Bananas anyone?

Bananas anyone?

This is a fake Palm Tree... a/k/a cell phone tower. They are all disguised like this in Moorea!

This is a fake Palm Tree… a/k/a cell phone tower. They are all disguised like this in Moorea!

O.K. all you lakers.... Let's get our pontoons looking like this!

O.K. all you lakers…. Let’s get our pontoons looking like this!

Sunset from our hotel bar.

Sunset from our hotel bar.

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Ahh.. yes, then Bora Bora!

First sighting of Bora Bora.

First sighting of Bora Bora.

Our transportation to the hotel.

Our transportation to the hotel.

Looks like Norm's ready for this place!

Looks like Norm’s ready for this place!

I guess Rita's ready too!

I guess Rita’s ready too!

Nice entryway!

Nice entryway!

Oh, yeah... we can call this home for 6 days!

Oh, yeah… we can call this home for 6 days!

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This is the lagoon beach where you can snorkel with very pretty fish!

This is the lagoon beach where you can snorkel with very pretty fish!

Come on in, it's great!

Come on in, it’s great!

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Took a sunset cruise.

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REALLY?? TWO story bungalows??

REALLY?? TWO story bungalows??

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We ate at this restaurant. Red roof is Matira Beach Restaurant.

We ate at this restaurant. Red roof is Matira Beach Restaurant.

Yeah, she can drive a boat just as fast as a car!

Yeah, she can drive a boat just as fast as a car!

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Sunset in Bora Bora.

Sunset in Bora Bora.

After our sunset cruise, we had dinner here.

After our sunset cruise, we had dinner here.

Thanksgiving Day Rita woke up to this!

Glub... Glub... Happy Turkey Day!

Glub… Glub… Happy Turkey Day!

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Here’s a few pictures of wedding island right before we ate our Thanksgiving Day Buffet!

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We also had some fun on these!

Rita???? Can you keep up?

Rita???? Can you keep up?

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Our last dinner out in Bora Bora, at the Saint James. Won't be smiling like this tomorrow!

Our last dinner out in Bora Bora, at the Saint James. Won’t be smiling like this tomorrow!

November 15-21, 2013 Rarotonga and Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

We arrived in Rarotonga on Friday.  They have not had any rain in 45 days.   So, it rained Friday and Saturday!  Whoa is me.  Why do things always happen to me!  I have this dark cloud over my head that follows me everywhere I go. I see myself as Pig Pen in the Peanuts comic strip.  LOL.  Rarotonga is a small island.  It has about 6,000 full time residents.

The flight from Auckland was almost 4 hours or about 2000 miles.  That is like flying Indy to Los Angeles for a couple of days on the beach; and it is raining.  There is nothing else to do here, but lie on a beach, relax and snorkel.   If it ever stops raining, we will take some photos for our blog.  But right now, we can’t see the beach it is raining so hard.

 

 

In order to get here, we had to fly over the International Date Line.  “Rita did you feel that bump!  It was the IDL.”  I had her going for a while.  The IDL was established in 1884 and is an imaginary line that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole basically along the 180-degree longitude.  When you cross it going eastward you subtract a day and going westward you add a day.  It is an arbitrary imaginary line on the globe where the calendar date advances a day going westward and subtracts a day going eastward.  So, we left Auckland on Saturday and arrived in Rarotonga on Friday.  Weird, huh?  Maybe I am a day younger now.  That would be nice. I wonder if I crossed it 365 times, would I be a year younger?

We have very limited Wi-Fi on the island and cannot use it in our villa.  We have to go to the common area and use it in the open-air lobby.  I sat there in the lobby with my jacket on, drinking some wine, and complaining to Rita the entire time about the rain and how cold it was.  She of course wanted to strangle me and kept telling me to quit buying all the MB’s… see you have to pay for your Wi-Fi by the MB, so if we even open FB, our 100 MB of Wi-Fi runs out in 5 to 10 minutes.  Rita saved hers by shutting her Wi-Fi off and on when she uses it.  Clever IT person, she is.

This island has had some interesting cultural history.  First, there were cannibals in parts of these islands.  They have great T Shirts for sale that say:  “Send more tourists.  The last lot was delicious!”   I hope they are kidding.  Secondly, 92% of the Cook Islanders are defined as obese.  So, coming here at the end of our trip after eating 184 days of restaurant food was a good idea.  Even though we have gained some weight, we both look REALLY small compared to Cook Islanders.  Fat is a sign of wealth and beauty here.  Boys and girls at puberty and again prior to marriage are sent away into seclusion for 3-5 days at a time to gorge themselves into more beautiful people.  In the last few years, this obsession with fat has been changing as the result of better health education.

We are staying in a thatched roof hut over the beach.  I guess I should pay attention to the tsunami evacuation route signs that are everywhere.  The island is surrounded by a coral reef approximately a half-mile off the beach.  Not to be confused with Jimmy Buffet’s band the Coral Reefers.  The coral reef is where the waves crash, not on the beach.  But, we can still hear, well Rita can, I, of course, can’t hear anything from our hut; the waves crash even though none of them ever reach the shoreline.  Inside the coral reef, between it and the shoreline, is the lagoon.  This is an area of still water, no waves, and so all the sand has settled out of the lagoon water so that it is crystal clear.  You can stand in chest deep lagoon water and see your toes.  The lagoon water is also warmer than the Pacific Ocean water because it is still water, not moving much, and thus the sun has a better chance to warm it.  The lagoon water is also filled with all kinds of colorful fish and crabs.  In fact, we ran into a crab on the beach last night on our walk before dinner.  He was from Rhode Island, was here with his wife, and did not have anything good to say, just complained all the time. Damn curmudgeon.

On Sunday, yes you got it—more rain.  It rained all day.  So, we rented a car,

Rita drove a right hand drive car, on the left hand side of the road and we made a circumnavigation of the island, all 34 kilometers or 19 miles, in two hours.   Since it was Sunday everything was closed.  We did not see anything but rain and fog on the island tour.   I think we took two photos on the drive.

 When we got back to the hotel, we ate dinner at Vaima, a very good restaurant with live music by a male and female duet.  When you look at the photo of the duet, can you tell which one has wealth and which one has beauty?

 

On Monday, we took a 23-passenger propeller airplane to another Cook Island called, Aitutaki.  It is even more remote and quiet than the wild and crazy island we just left.  The population of Aitutaki is only 2,000.  Rita wasn’t sure she wanted to take such a small propeller plane, but decided to go when I waived goodbye to her at the jet way and they started to close the door on the airplane!  As the plane lifted from the runway, we could see the bright sunshine come through the clouds and bask Rarotonga in all its glory.  Don’t know where the sun had been for 3 days!  But, it showed up the second we took off!!

 Aitutaki means island of the Gods.  A Tahitian, who left Tahiti in order to escape the tribal wars, named the island of Aitutaki.  When the Tahitians were leaving, they came with all of their family, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, children and on the way they were pursued by enemies, but escaped them when a storm kept the pursuers from catching up with them.  The storm broke right on the edge of the lagoon.  After the storm, the Tahitians saw the island of Aitutaki and made there way onto the beaches, which has many fruits and vegetables and no enemies.  This is what the legend is around this island.  I would like to believe a part of this and a part of the wiki story that says it was a God who discovered this island.  There are these wooden statues all over this island and it is a “God”, of what we have no idea.  I had my photo taken with a wooden statue of the original God so you could see him.  What an intimidating experience to be photographed next to such a big God!

We are staying at the hotel Etu Moana whose name means blue starfish.  We have blue starfish in the lagoon in front of our villa.  We also have large clams in the lagoon and all kinds of other tropical fish.  We also have too many sea cucumbers in our lagoon for our liking.  They are black things, about 6 inches long that look like

poop and emit a white sticky substance when attacked by their predators.  They also can expand to 20 to 30 percent of their size when attacked by a predator sort of the way silly putty expands. They are not harmful to humans, but they wash up on the shoreline and look like blobs of poop and you have to watch where you step in the water to avoid them so you don’t get sticky white stuff on your toes.  The natives use the sea cucumbers as squirt guns!

This island is a lot like Rarotonga in that it is surrounded by a coral reef so the waves break offshore and the island has a lagoon of clear, warm water surrounding it.  In fact, it is known for its lagoon and the clarity of the water in the lagoon.  The lagoon is the primary reason tourists visit this island.

The first full day on Aitutaki we rented a car and drove the 4 miles around the long island.  The car had 114,000 kilometers on the odometer and had no air conditioning.  There are numerous wild roosters and hens on the island.  They fly and roost in trees at night.  We also saw two pigs along the side the road.  We visited the local Supermarket and drove by the brand new reservation office for our airline company, Air Rarotonga.  For dinner, we went to the Pacific Resort and sat on its beach to watch the sunset and have, what else, Cosmopolitans.  The sunset that night was the most beautiful one we have seen on this trip, by far.   On the way home, we saw large crabs scurrying across the road, but no “Crab Crossing” warning signs! 

About 3 years ago, I bought a photograph at the Broad Ripple Art Fair of the perfect South Pacific Island with palm trees and surrounded by pure white sand and beautiful clear water.  I asked the photographer where the photo was taken and he explained that it was taken on one of his trips to the Cook Islands.  He explained that the island in the photo was used by the “locals” on Sunday for barbeques and had a post office on it, but he did not recall its name.  So, when we were planning our trip across the South Pacific and saw that a somewhat straight line from New Zealand to Tahiti passed near the Cook Islands, we had to include the Cook Islands on our trip to see if we could find the island in my photograph.  Our advance research led us to believe that One Foot Island in Aitutaki lagoon may be that island.

Our second full day, we took a tour of the Aitutaki Lagoon by boat and visited various motus, or small islands around the lagoon including Honeymoon Island and One Foot Island.  Honeymoon Island got its name as the idyllic pure white sand island for Honeymooners of course. There was in fact a wedding performed on the island several years ago.   One Foot Island got its name because it is shaped like a foot when viewed from above. But legend says that the islanders believe the island got its name because a tribe of warriors chased a boat to kill the male inhabitants.  In the boat there was a boy and his father but the warriors didn’t know there were two people on the boat as they only saw the father.  The father beached his boat on the island and told his boy to run and hide in the trees.  The father then stepped in his son’s footsteps making it appear that only one person was on the boat.  When the warriors got to the island, they followed the footprints, found the father and killed him.  But the father saved his son because the warriors were unaware of his presence hiding in a tree.  (or, as Norm believes, One Foot Island may have been the nickname for the original god that he had his photo taken with!)  One Foot Island had a post office on it and we believe that it is the one in the photograph that I purchased at the Broad Ripple Art Fair. 

We also donned snorkel and mask and checked out what was going on underneath the water in the lagoon.  We were amazed at the number and color of the fish.  We saw one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish!! We also saw a turtle, a stingray and a giant clam. Finally, we went to the islands where Survivor was filmed. We saw where they held their tribal council, and other tribal gatherings, as these have been left untouched since the filming.  Upon seeing these uninhabited islands where they filmed this show, we can’t even imagine how they could find food to eat, let alone survive for however long they are kept there.  There is nothing on these islands except coconuts, the local fruits that grow, and maybe a few chickens.  Our boat driver told us that none of them (the peeps from survivor) could even catch the chickens.  After the boat trip, we could truly appreciate why people come to this island.

We leave tomorrow for Tahiti.  This will be our last stop on the trip.  We plan to visit three Tahitian Islands, Moorea, Tahiti and Bora Bora. 

Love you and miss you.  We will be home in about 9 days.  Norm & Rita

 

Aitutaki, Cook Islands…. BEAUTIFUL!!!

Great little place in Aitutaki!

Great little place in Aitutaki!

Our pool and house bar in Aitutaki! The bar was on the honor system. You just write it down whenever you help yourself to anything!

Our pool and house bar in Aitutaki! The bar was on the honor system. You just write it down whenever you help yourself to anything!

This little guy, was just hanging out along side the road.

This little guy, was just hanging out along side the road. Think maybe the rope around his foot had something to do with it?

These signs are posted everywhere in Aitutaki!

These signs are posted everywhere in Aitutaki!

Anyone interested?

Anyone interested?

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This is what lines the football field a/k/a soccer field in Aitutaki.

This is what lines the football field a/k/a soccer field in Aitutaki.

Wonder if the outrigger comes with the beach house.

Wonder if the outrigger comes with the beach house.

Just a lovely view!

Just a lovely view!

This is a beach cottage for rent. Not sure on the price, though.

This is a beach cottage for rent. Not sure on the price, though.

Would this be an outrigger?

Would this be an outrigger?

Now this one has a really cool anchor!

Now this one has a really cool anchor!

Rita's favorite tree on our beach in Aitutaki!

Rita’s favorite tree on our beach in Aitutaki!

Sea cucumber in the sand.

Sea cucumber in the sand.

Sea Cucumber in the water!

Sea Cucumber in the water!

Typical home in Aitutaki.

Typical home in Aitutaki.

Now we think this picture could win some type of award!

Now we think this picture could win some type of award!

The beginning of a great sunset.

The beginning of a great sunset.

Just magical how the colors change.

Just magical how the colors change.

Norm's version.

Norm’s version.

Rita's version.

Rita’s version.

Norm and his "Island God"

Norm and his “Island God”

Yes, Norm made Rita take a picture with the 'Island God" also! She is playing Vanna White!

Yes, Norm made Rita take a picture with the ‘Island God” also! She is playing Vanna White!

Must be a run on "Hair Dye" LOL!

Must be a run on “Hair Dye” LOL!

Local Store advertisements.

Local Store advertisements.

We loved the advertisement UNDER the pay phone!

We loved the advertisement UNDER the pay phone!

This is the airline office!

This is the airline office!

Here are some pictures from our boat tour of the lagoon area and the outer islands.

On our way to Honeymoon Island!

On our way to Honeymoon Island!

We got this close to Honeymoon Island and our boat driver stopped and said we’re snorkeling here! and this is the first fish we saw!

And this is George!

And this is George!

Tuvelli fish! This fish swam with us!! Yeah, mostly Norm, as Rita jumped back in the boat!

Trivelli fish! This fish swam with us!! Yeah, mostly Norm, as Rita jumped back in the boat!

Snorkeling with these yellow fish.

Snorkeling with these yellow fish.

See the blue fish here too?

See the blue fish here too?

Blue and green fish! We really did snorkel with red fish and blue fish!

Blue and green fish! We really did snorkel with red fish and blue fish!

This is a turtle we could not keep up with and we were going fast!

This is a turtle we could not keep up with and we were going fast!

Getting closer to Honeymoon Island, our first stop after snorkeling!

Getting closer to Honeymoon Island, our first stop after snorkeling!

Honeymoon Island as we are walking to it from the boat.

Honeymoon Island as we are walking to it from the boat.

Little guy that can't fly!

Little guy that can’t fly!

Maina Island, this used to be connected to Honeymoon Island, but you can still walk there. It's only about knee deep.

Maina Island, this used to be connected to Honeymoon Island, but you can still walk there. It’s only about knee deep.

These are the pictures from “Survivor Island”.  We stopped at two of these!

One of the 4 "Survivor Islands"

One of the 4 “Survivor Islands”

I'm sure the tribal council meeting was held here.

I’m sure the tribal council meeting was held here.

Survivor Island leftovers.

Survivor Island leftovers.

This is where one of the tribes set up camp.

This is where one of the tribes set up camp.

These guys love our visits.

These guys love our visits.

Our boat driver messin' with the native birds on survivor island.

Our boat driver (Kimmy) messin’ with the native birds on survivor island.

We walked across the entire survivor island (through a walking path filled with mozzzies) and this is at the other end.

We walked across the entire survivor island (through a walking path filled with mozzzies) and this is at the other end.

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And off we go again!

One Foot Island!

One Foot Island!

Ah, yes, a closer view of One Foot Island.

Ah, yes, a closer view of One Foot Island.

What is that on the island??

What is that on the island??

Here's Norm hanging out at the Post Office on One Foot Island...He said is was nothing like his first job at the post office in his hometown!

Here’s Norm hanging out at the Post Office on One Foot Island…He said this one looked nothing like the one he worked at during his first job in his hometown!

They sell postcards just like this at the front office of our hotel. Humm, could be a new business venture for us!

They sell postcards just like this at the front office of our hotel. Humm, could be a new business venture for us!

Rarotonga, Cook Islands.. very nice despite the rain.

This is our place in Rarotonga. On the day we arrived. It was partly cloudy for about two hours.

This is our place in Rarotonga. On the day we arrived. It was partly cloudy for about two hours.

We loved these chairs in front of our hut.

We loved these chairs in front of our hut.

Norm, before the rain!! Not pouting here!

Norm, before the rain!! Not pouting here!

Even a cloudy day in paradise is better than working!!

Even a cloudy day in paradise is better than working!!

This is a TINY crab!!

This is a TINY crab!!

This is our view from our fist dinner at the Little Polynesian!

This is our view from our fist dinner at the Little Polynesian!

Our First Dinner at the Little Polynesian.

Our First Dinner at the Little Polynesian.

Our view the next night at dinner! with the plastic down protecting us from the rain!

Our view the next night at dinner! with the plastic down protecting us from the rain!

Most of our day looked like this in Rarotonga. Hence why Norm was whining???

Most of our days looked like this in Rarotonga. Hence why Norm was whining???

Yes, Rita drove a backwards car... well, the steering wheel felt like that on the wrong side!

Yes, Rita drove a backwards car… well, the steering wheel felt like that on the wrong side!

Our last night in Rarotonga!

Our last night in Rarotonga!

Bar Lush!

Bar Lush!

Sunset from the "Shipwreck" - supposed to be one of the top 50 beach bars in the world! This is in front of where the cat was sleeping!

Sunset from the “Shipwreck” – supposed to be one of the top 50 beach bars in the world! This is in front of where the cat was sleeping!

First Sunset in Rarotonga.

First Sunset in Rarotonga.

These are flying roosters.

These are flying roosters.

Auckland, New Zealand

November 11th – 16th

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We took a four-hour flight on Monday from Sydney to Auckland. When I checked the bags, I noticed that the airport code for Auckland was “AKL”.  You can’t get away from Andy’s influence no matter how far you travel!

During the flight, I watched the movie “42”.  The movie was the story of how and why Jackie Robinson, the first black player in major league baseball, was brought into the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball organization in 1947.  I was extremely impressed with Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and emotionally moved by the moral character of these two men. These were men who did what was right, because it was right, even though it was unpopular.  They made the “hard decisions” in life, when it would have been easy to take the easy way out.  They both had sacrifices to make for the better good.  Strangely enough, these two men and their actions reminded me of the men and women I practice law with at the firm.  For over 38 years, I have participated in, and observed, the firm’s managers and its partners make the right decisions, and many times the hard decisions, for the benefit of the greater good of the firm and its family of employees.  The managers of the firm and its partners are men and women who, unselfishly and without hesitation, put others above themselves and have made many sacrifices, which at times have gone unnoticed and unseen, so that others in the firm could be treated with dignity and respect as individuals.  I have the greatest respect for the managers of the firm and its partners for always striving to do the morally right thing.  I am also proud to be a small part of that team and wish to recognize the managers and partners of Scopelitis for the character which it has instilled in all of us to be the best, morally best, that we can be in our daily lives and with each other.  If you have not seen the movie, I would recommend it to you.

New Zealand is a country of 5 million people and 31 million sheep.  The number of sheep is down from 70 million in 1982.  Baaaa!   The New Zealander’s also invented the tear back Velcro strip, the pop lid on a self-sealing paint can, the child-proof pill bottle, and the crinkle in hair pins so that they don’t fall out.  No part of New Zealand is more than 80 miles from the sea.

The average home price in Auckland is $652,000.  The average sized home is 1700 square feet.  Home prices went up 8% last year and 13% the year before.  Most homes are sold at auction because demand has outstripped supply.  The average income in Auckland is $57,000.  A New Zealander (KIWI) with an annual income of $75,000.0 can buy a home that is priced at $800,000.00!!! Crazy how they have no loan to income ratios here.  They just changed the standard loan guidelines and now you need 20% down to buy a home. But with that… nothing else matters.

We are in New Zealand to see if we can find the vineyards of Kim Crawford where  Sauvignon Blanc wine is produced.  Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is a popular white wine sold in the United States for a reasonable price.  It is great chilled.  Good with appetizers, fish and chicken.  We have drunk so much of this wine in the last few years that we thought we should go visit our money in New Zealand!  So, here we are.

On Tuesday– we got a slow start.  We walked around the harbor and took photos of the boats.  The harbor is filled with all kinds of sailboats, powerboats and racing sailboats from various years of competing in the America Cup races.  Lunch was at The Foodstore, which specializes in New Zealand fresh produce, meats, fish and cheeses.  The menus in Australia and even more so in New Zealand recognize by name the farms and fisheries where the food is sourced.  It sometimes even has explanations regarding what the cows are fed, how the fish are raised, and whether the vegetables are organic.  The Aussies and Kiwis are very interested in eating healthy foods, free from processing and locally sourced. Later in the afternoon, we planned our next three days.  I got a haircut.  Rita finished the Sydney blog and posted the photos.  We hope you enjoy the Sydney blog and photos.

On Wednesday, we took a 45-minute ferry ride to Waiheke (pronounced: “Why He Key”) Island, a beautiful island with rolling green hills, sheep, lots of contemporary homes and a lot of vineyards.  We tasted red wine and had lunch at Stoney Ridge  Vineyard, which has a uniquely island feel to it, tasted red and white wines at Mudbrick Winery, which was more traditional in style and architecture and finished with white wine at Cable Bay Winery, which was more contemporary.  We had a great time on the island.  Residents said it was a wonderful place to live, with low stress and great weather year around.  The island has about 5,000 full time residents.

On Thursday, we went to Kumeu River Valley and visited the vineyards or tasting cellars for Kim Crawford, Nobilo, Cooper Creek and Artisan wines.  We spent almost two hours at Kim Crawford and Nobilo and got a great wine education and had a lot of fun.  Kim Crawford had so many different wines to taste that are not available in the US.  So we bought a lot of wine to be shipped to us so that it will be received before Christmas.  Lunch was totally organic and was at the Artisan Winery.  We had great homemade breads, homemade olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chicken, lamb, pasta and potato salad, tomato and greens salad, red cabbage salad and a greek salad.  Did I mention we had wine for lunch?  We had a great organic Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir.  We were supposed to meet up with Rita’s work colleague, but he was a little busy as he just arrived here on Wednesday night.  As he said himself, he has kids scattered all across this country he needs to see, so we are meeting him tonight.

Tomorrow we leave for Rarotonga.  Where do you ask is Rarotonga?   Rita prepared a map for you.  Follow us to this island paradise.  Here is the link for the map.  Be sure to click on the arrow in the upper right hand corner.

http://www.goprotravelling.com/embed/0e3461c5f09479c5d6d2baf434d39dff

Miss you all.  

See you soon.  Love, Norm & Rita.

WOW!! NEW ZEALAND ROCKS!!!

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New Zealand Skyline

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I guess these would be lounge lizards of NZ?

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Hull of the NZ America’s Cup Sailboat

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Info on the above NZ Sailboat Hull

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On our way to Waiheke Island!

Sailors delight!

Sailors delight!

Vodafone racing sailboat

Vodafone racing sailboat

Ahh... here we are.. sure would like to live in the house on the top of this hill.

Ahh… here we are.. sure would like to live in the house on the top of this hill.

Typical style of housing on the island.

Typical style of housing on the island.

This is how they build in NZ.

This is how they build in NZ.

No explanation needed.

No explanation needed.

Little Palm Beach.

Little Palm Beach.

Summer home on Little Palm Beach.

Summer home on Little Palm Beach.

Oneroa Bay Beach, great family beach with a park, swings, great area for kids.

Oneroa Bay Beach, great family beach with a park, swings, great area for kids.

Pretty views from anywhere on the island.

Pretty views from anywhere on the island.

Here are some of the vineyard pictures.

Stoney Ridge Vineyard

Stoney Ridge Vineyard

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Where we had a great lunch and a few tastes, of course.

Nice red flight.

Nice red flight.

Mudbrick’s Vineyard

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Te Whau (pronounced “TEA FOE”)

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Cable Bay Winery…

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Just some other beautiful sites along the way.

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You can’t see the white specs on this, but they are sheep.

These are the sheep!

These are the sheep!

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Then after Cable Bay, our taxi driver said, “I’ll just drop you off here and when you are done, you can leisurely take the short 10 minute walking path back to the ferry, that way you can take your time and drink, eat and relax.”  The 10 minute walking path turned into a 30 minute HIKE!!

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This is what we walked through. Can’t even tell there was a walking path anywhere in there!!

Here is our view as we left Waiheke….

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This is the dock where the ferries drop us off.

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Here we are at Kim Crawford, Nobilo and Coopers Creek.

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New Zealand

Here are some other sights around the harbor in Auckland!

Notice this says "VENOM"??!!

Notice this says “VENOM”??!!

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Sydney, Australia

Good Morning from Sydney! 

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Yesterday we walked around the Harbor and watched the boats on the Harbor.   There are ferries taking passengers to and from the suburbs.  There are water taxis taking passengers to private destinations.  Then, there is a cruise ship in the Harbor tied up next to our hotel.  We sunned at the rooftop swimming pool and lounged around in the hot tub.  Dinner was at the Hotel.

After the Harbor, we walked to the Sydney Opera House.  A Dane designed it by the name of Jorn Utzon.  While construction began in 1957, it was not dedicated until 1973.  The building is recognized as one of the most distinctive designs of the 20th century.  The “shells” of the building have been described as waves and sails.  See our photos and see what you think the shells look like.

 After seeing the Sydney Opera House, we walked around the Rocks, which is the oldest section of Sydney.  The original “white” settlers established their post on the Rocks.  Today we enjoyed street merchants selling food, clothes, jewelry and other arts and crafts.

 Next, we took a taxi to Bondi Beach on the Pacific Ocean.  It is about a kilometer long beach of beautiful white sand.  It may have been the first white sand beach we have seen on this entire trip.  The Beach is a surfer’s mecca.  Above the Beach is a restaurant, the Iceberg, which has a billion dollar view of the beach so we ate lunch there.  We also enjoyed the fresh Australian wine that they produce near Sydney.

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BTW, the taxi driver to Bondi Beach was a hoot.  He was Lebanese, 72 and had seven sons; the youngest was only 14 years old.  His wife left him at 58, after the birth of his last son, because she wanted a girl.  She had the last son when she was 57!  He called her the “CRAZY, LAZY WOMAN”!!!  He said he did all the cooking, cleaning, and worked full time and drove a taxi part time!  All she did was have babies and complain about him not giving her a girl!  He had an IPOD and played Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tom Jones and Elvis Presley songs, all at ear piercing decibels! 

 From Bondi Beach, we took a taxi to Watson’s Bay and drank a Margarita at Doyle’s on Watson’s Bay.  It is a bar/restaurant that has been used in the past on television in Foster Beer commercials.  Beautiful people were everywhere.  Some were in summer casuals.  Some were dressed fashionably.  There was also a wedding going on at Watson’s bay with antique cars and everyone dressed in long tuxedos!  From Watson’s Bay we caught a ferry back to Sydney Harbor to end our day.

The homes in Sydney are lovely.  Laws and regulations protect most of them so that any architectural changes have to be approved.  While in Sydney, they had an auction of homes, which is the way they sell homes here, because the demand is so high. The MEDIAN sales price was $722,718 for the 784 homes sold.  Needless to say, the standard of living in Sydney is quite high by American standards.  An article we saw on line said that Australian couples living on $150,000 a year were having a tough time making ends meet.  The average income in Australia is $72,000, but the median income falls to $57,000. 

 Tomorrow we leave for Auckland where we are looking forward to meeting up with a work colleague of Rita’s who is a Kiwi, but works for Andretti, and is in Auckland visiting family, now that the 2013 Indy Car Series is over.  Hope to get the local view of Auckland from him, although we hear Kiwi’s drink a lot, so we may never get out of the pub with him!

 

Love and miss you all!  We will be home soon! Norm and Rita  

Some photos of Sydney!

First view of the Sydney Opera House.

First view of the Sydney Opera House.

Did Norm or Rita take this one?

Did Norm or Rita take this one?

 

Skyline of Sydney across the harbor.

Skyline of Sydney across the harbor.

This is right outside our windows.

This is right outside our windows.

Walked around the corner and thought this ship was in the grass!

Walked around the corner and thought this ship was in the grass!

But of course, it was in the water.

But of course, it was in the water.

NIght view of the opera house from our hotel room.

Night view of the opera house from our hotel room.

NIghttime view is spectacular!

Nighttime view is spectacular! Who took this picture?

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View from the Opera House

View from the Opera House

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Gorgeous Bondi Beach!

Gorgeous Bondi Beach!

Iceberg's on the edge of Bondi Beach.

Iceberg’s on the edge of Bondi Beach.

Pool at Iceberg's.

Pool at Iceberg’s. The waves crash into the pool.

View of Sydney from our ferry trip.

View of Sydney from our ferry trip.

Front on view of the Sydney Opera House.

Front on view of the Sydney Opera House.

This was in the Fosters commercials. Does it look familiar?

This was in the Fosters commercials. Does it look familiar?

Watson's Bay

Watson’s Bay

These are the bridge walkers/climbers on the top. We opted to forego this exercise.

These are the bridge walkers/climbers on the top. We opted to forego this exercise.

Bridge from around the corner of our hotel. Looks really big!

Bridge from around the corner of our hotel. Looks really big!

Japanese wedding in front of our hotel, this is part of their photo shoot. Photographer was taking their picture "showing them walking the harbor".

Japanese wedding in front of our hotel, this is part of their photo shoot. Photographer was taking their picture “showing them walking the harbor”.

It was a beautiful gown.

It was a beautiful gown.

On our last night, they had fireworks over the opera house! Beautiful display!

On our last night, they had fireworks over the opera house! Beautiful display!

Loved the fireworks out our window.

Loved the fireworks out our window.

Sunrise in Sydney!

Sunrise in Sydney!

Melbourne, Australia

November 5th thru the 8th, 2013

We flew from Bali to Melbourne, Australia on an overnight flight.  We arrived on the 4th and learned that apparently, the biggest horse race in the world was being held in Melbourne on the 5th. It is called the Melbourne Cup and the date is a National Holiday.  Horses from all over the world participate.  It is very similar to the Kentucky Derby, except that the horses are weighted, so some of them have a handicap, which makes the race a bit more fascinating, as any horse can win and the entire Nation stops for 5 minutes to watch the race.  There is a big parade held in downtown Melbourne with horses, jockeys, bands, celebrities and politicians participating.  All the women are decked out in Kate Middleton look a-like hats, dresses and high heels.  The men are dressed in coats, ties and hats also.  We placed a couple of bets, sat at a bar in a casino and watched the race.  As suspected our horses did not win, one of mine, and one of Rita’s placed, but of course, since we know nothing about betting, we placed our bet wrong, so we won nothing!!!  We could have won about $2500.00, had we known… Oh well, it was exciting just to participate in the local event.   

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Afterwards we hopped in a taxi and went to the suburb of St. Kilda, which is on the beach about 6 kilometers from the city center of Melbourne.  We walked the boardwalk along the Southern Ocean, enjoyed the setting sun and watched the throngs on the beach.  As you are aware, it is November in Melbourne, which is like April in Indiana.  The temperature today was 79 degrees and very sunny.  We ate a snack at a beach side bar/restaurant called the “Stoke House” and watched the beach crowd as well as the race crowd returning from the Melbourne Cup.   

Like Singapore, Melbourne has been a very pleasant surprise.  It is clean and modern.  It is located on the Yarra River.  Melbourne has developed the banks of the River and created all sorts of upscale bars, restaurants, hotels, casinos, stores and malls.  The riverbanks are crowded day and night with people enjoying the nice spring weather, strolling along the river, eating and drinking.  All these people attract artists, musicians and magicians.  One unique street entertainer had a bicycle that was designed to go the opposite direction you are steering it.  He would bet people $10 they could not ride the bike about 15 feet.  While this may not sound too difficult, we watched several people try and fail miserably.  The people we watched could not even ride the bike 3 feet!!  We could not figure out the trick bike and how it worked.   I came to Melbourne specifically to see the Apostles.  The Apostles are 12 large limestone stacks or rocks standing in the surf off the Southern coast of Australia, in the Southern Ocean, 3 hours from Melbourne, of which only 9 are left standing.  Yes, I know that there were 12 Apostles in the Bible, but there are only 9 Apostles in Australia because unfortunately three have been lost to the wave erosion.  Why did I want to see the Apostles?  Well, the spectacular beauty of the Apostles always fascinated my father Harold whenever he would see them in a photo in a magazine.  He would always show me the photos of the Apostles and tell me that if he went to Australia someday, he would want to see them.  Although my father Harold gave to me his love of travel, and traveled extensively himself, he never made it to Australia to see the Apostles.  So, here I am in Australia and yes I did see them for my father Harold.  The 9 Apostles were impressive indeed to see in person.  But, more importantly, as I stood on the cliffs overlooking the Apostles, I could feel the presence of my father Harold with me and he was pleased that I was there.   To get to the Apostles, we drove three hours on the Great Coast Highway.  Along the route we saw eucalyptus trees, wild koala bears and kangaroo crossings, but no kangaroos.  The wild koala’s eat 4 hours a day and sleep 20 hours a day.  I am sure some of you would be jealous of that schedule!! 

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The countryside was beautiful, rolling green hills with lots of trees, cows, and sheep.  The farms in this area are quite large by our standards.  They run in excess of 5000 acres.      On our last day in Melbourne, we decided to take a bus tour, to see what those “hop on – hop off” bus tours were all about.  It was actually very nice to ride in the comfort of the bus and hear the commentary with the history of all the different places.  We also got to see a lot of homes along the way, as this is a very downtown residential city.  Most of the buildings are made of glass to sustain the weather here, as wood rots easily.  The glass buildings make for a wonderful city landscape.   

We wanted to see Perth, on the southwest side of Australia, as Rita’s parents lived there for about 5 or 6 years prior to coming to the United States.  Her next oldest sister, Mary, was born in Perth.  But, unfortunately, since Australia is such a large country, we could only fit in two of the cities on our list.  So, we are off to Sydney now to explore this harbor town.  Talk soon!  

Happy birthday to Martha, Mary (Rita’s sister), and Brody!! All of them celebrate their birthday on the same day!!! November 11!!  

Love and miss all of you, Norm and Rita      

Melbourne, Australia

Our first sight of the south bank in Melbourne.

Our first sight of the south bank in Melbourne.

Helicopter rides over the city scape!

Helicopter rides over the city scape!

Evening on the boardwalk!

Evening on the boardwalk!

Whoah!! Didn't know the fire was coming out of this when we walked by! We both jumped!

Whoah!! Didn’t know the fire was coming out of this when we walked by! We both jumped!

Lots of black swans here.

Lots of black swans here.

Walked by these on our way to the mall. Love them, they are named "Venus" and "Mars"!

Walked by these on our way to the mall. Love them, they are named “Venus” and “Mars”!

One of the street performers that swallows balloons!

One of the street performers that swallows balloons!

Yes, he REALLY did it!

Yes, he REALLY did it!

Looks like a great place to stop for a drink!

Looks like a great place to stop for a drink!

Looks easy, right??

Looks easy, right??

Actually, NO ONE could even get it started, they didn't even pedal once!

Actually, NO ONE could even get it started, they didn’t even pedal once!

Found these guys in the mall! Why he kept patting Rita's head down, we have no idea!!

Found these guys in the mall! Why he kept patting Rita’s head down, we have no idea!!

St. Kilda's Beach

St. Kilda’s Beach

The Stoke House

The Stoke House

Beautiful artwork on the beach, with real fire!

Beautiful artwork on the beach, with real fire!

One of the first views along the Great Ocean Road.

One of the first views along the Great Ocean Road.

Stopped along the way to take a picture.

Stopped along the way to take a picture.

Can you see the surfers?

Can you see the surfers?

Yes, Stephanie, you are correct... The top ten MOST DANGEROUS snakes live in Australia!!

Yes, Stephanie, you are correct… The top ten MOST DANGEROUS snakes live in Australia!!

When we stopped to see the Koala bears, we were told to watch out for all the birds. They attack people!

When we stopped to see the Koala bears, we were told to watch out for all the birds. They attack people!

As mom is taking her sons picture, a bird decided to land on her ipad!

As mom is taking her sons picture, a bird decided to land on her iPad!

This is a sleepy head Koala bear.

This is a sleepy head Koala bear.

Lots of these signs along the road.

Lots of these signs along the road.

We arrived!

We arrived! Here are a few pictures of the 12 Apostles          (we mean 9 Apostles)

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This is the story of London Bridge.  Read the sign.

Yeah, Not the whole story, here!

Yeah, Not the whole story, here!

See this beautiful rock formation? It was once ONE piece.

See this beautiful rock formation? It was once ONE piece.

The real story is...

The real story is…

There was a tour bus group out on these rocks and all of the tour peeps had come across the rock on the left to the rock on the right, except for two people.  Then the crossing broke, fell and the two people were stranded on the rock on the right.  Of course the news people were all there, with there helicopters, TV camera crews, etc.  Well, turns out the two people stranded were a man and a woman on holiday together as a couple!  BUT… their respective spouses had no idea!! of course, until the TV news announced it! Crazy!

This is called Loch Ard 1878, where a ship wrecked right into the wall of the ocean.

This is called Loch Ard Gorge of 1878, where a ship wrecked right into the wall of the ocean.

This is along the stretch of the Great Ocean Road that is called the Shipwreck Coastline.  Over 50 ships have wrecked along this part of the ocean.  The Loch Ard hit the reef and crashed.  One man held on to the hull of the boat for 5 hours and then swam from the other side of this gorge into this little inlet.  One woman, survived by clinging to the spar of the boat.  The man came ashore first and was resting on the beach at sunrise and he heard a women yelling for help.  He then swam out again to the other side of this gorge and rescued her.  Hence this is named “Loch Ard Gorge”.