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fieldtripcoordinator Oct 30th, 2009 07:18 AM

33 Days of Adventure in Europe
 
Thanks to Fodorites, our trip to Europe in May 2009 was a huge success, in spite of the fact that I had two back surgeries in the six weeks preceding our trip!

I'm going to do these in installments. I've been blogging about my trip, but suddenly realized today that I never came back here to extend my heartfelt thanks and to report about our trip.

So here goes...
I am a recently retired home schooler of two. Our younger child graduated this year. We felt this called for a huge celebration. Instead of a party or graduation ceremony, we chose to go to Europe for a month. We planned and saved for a year and a half. I put in a great deal of time doing research, but it was well worth it.

My memorable stories aren't chronological, so if you're wanting a detailed itinerary, you might just get frustrated with me. Sorry, but my memories come to mind because they're memorable.

I titled my first story "Two Italian Men".
We rented an apartment from Under the Roman Sun. It's in the Trestavere (tress TAH vare eh) neighborhood, far from the madding crowds who frequent the more touristy areas of Rome. It was on a side street, part of a maze that got us lost trying to find it on our first day. There were numerous small restaurants nearby, along with bakeries and small grocers.

Our first night required that we do some laundry, having already been traveling for 16 days. I was thrilled that there was a washing machine. A small one, but a washing machine nonetheless. The rental agency representative showed me how to use it upon our check in, while Kevin, my husband, had chatted with another rep.That was the first mistake! I was fatigued and knew I probably wouldn't remember all the buttons and their purposes.

I proceeded to load it with a small load. Well, a small load for me, anyway. When I went to unload it, I discovered that the machine was still half filled with water. We fiddled with the buttons, all to no avail. The rental agency office opened at noon, so I emailed them to explain our problem, knowing that they would see it as soon as they opened....or maybe sooner.

In the morning, Kevin and my son went to the local grocer to buy bread, milk, etc for breakfast. Upon their return, there was a man waiting at the apartment door. Assuming he was there to repair the washing machine, we let him in.

The thing about traveling to a foreign country is that they often don't speak your language!

This was definitely true in our case.

I led him out to the balcony, where the offending machine resided in a closet. The man shook his head.

Oh.

The man started explaining - in Italian - what he wanted. He found the electric box on the kitchen wall and made motions of snipping wires. What?!

He wanted to turn off the electricity! He showed Kevin a bill with an outstanding balance.

We tried to explain that we did not own the apartment and were just renting it for a few days. This did not sink in.

The man motioned as if he were writing and said "Escrive?" At least, that's what I thought he said. Ah! Write it down! Maybe he can read English or we can read Italian better than we hear it!

I'd like to give credit to whom credit is due, but I don't remember who came up with the idea of using the Internet to translate. Brilliant! We went to the Yahoo babelfish web site and merrily typed back and forth, both shaking our heads as we tried to understand each other. It became quite comical, but frustrating at the same time. I imagine he was truly baffled when the computer screen said we were renting from under the roman sun, not knowing it was the rental agency name!

The man was determined. The electricity must be turned off. We finally called the rental agency and explained our problem. The person who answered the phone told us something to the effect of calling back.

Were we supposed to call them back? Were they going to call us back?

As we were about to call them again, a knock came upon the door. We let yet another Italian man into our apartment. He began conversing with Italian Electric Man. After a few minutes, Italian Electric Man departed. I turned to Italian Man II and asked "Parla inglese?"

"Yes, I speak English."

Oh, hooray!

Apparently, the apartment owner had been away from Rome for several months and had not settled his bill. Italian Man II had convinced him to wait.

Italians are wonderful people. They help one another out whenever they can. You see, Italian Man II didn't even work for the rental agency. He was just a friend who lived in the area. The agency had asked him to come over and intervene, which he did willingly and happily.

I just love the Italian people.

fieldtripcoordinator Oct 30th, 2009 07:24 AM

My last story was that of Two Italian Men. The next anecdote is about a French Woman and her Dog, although the dog does not have a speaking part.

We flew from Dulles to Paris on an overnighter, arriving at about 6 a.m. Paris time (noon for us). The challenge was that we could not check into our apartment until noon. The rental agency assured us that there were plenty of sidewalk cafes in the area where we could sit and relax...surrounded by our suitcases.

We purchased our train tickets from an unfriendly ticket agent at Charles de Gaulle airport and boarded the train into the city. My first impressions of Paris were not good. Was it true that Americans were treated badly by most French? Was all of Paris this ugly?

Fortunately, neither was true.

We found our way to the neighborhood in which our apartment was situated, Le Marais, and stood on the corner near the Metro exit, examining the map and trying to determine which way to go. Enter French Woman with a Dog.

She was dressed nicely, middle-aged, and spoke French beautifully. But no English. I took French in college, but that was a long time ago! My son took French in high school. We were hoping that between the two of us, we'd make out okay.

Despite the fact that there was a language barrier, it was apparent that French Woman with a Dog was endeavoring to help us find our way. She spoke French and I tried to answer in French. I couldn't remember all my numbers, so I wrote down the street number for which we were searching.

Honestly, I think she was just as lost as we were, but I certainly give her credit for trying!

She finally determined that she should go left, which was away from all the cafes which would open shortly. After many exclamations of "Merci!" and "D'accord!", we set off. It only took a few minutes to find it.

Determined that we knew where to go when noon rolled around, we headed back to the cafe area.

"Allo! Allo! Ici! Ici!" (Hello! Hello! Here! Here!)

It was French Woman with a Dog, waving us back in the "correct" direction. Apparently, she thought that we had completely missed the apartment. Oh, how to say "We can't check in until noon"?!

More gestures and pointing to our watches, and yes, we see the apartment.

Satisfied that the Americans knew where they were going, she continued her stroll.

See? The French are wonderful people.

Next installment: "Have we been ripped off?!"

taconictraveler Oct 30th, 2009 07:47 AM

This is a charming tale, so far, and I expect we'll get more of the same.

What adventures you must have had, considering you seem to have the proper attitude for travel!

More please.

fieldtripcoordinator Oct 30th, 2009 08:03 AM

Thanks for the encouragement! It's the fuel for my writing.

fieldtripcoordinator Oct 30th, 2009 08:11 AM

"Fat Tires, Wide Paths, and Tons of History"

It could take a lifetime to see any of the European capital cities. Seeing just one in a matter of days takes some careful planning and really comfortable walking shoes! Unless, of course, you are on a bicycle. It's a terrific way to see the major sights of the city with a knowledgeable guide who speaks English! You can see a whole lot more with less effort. We made this choice and went with Fat Tire Bike Tours.

Our guide, Seth, related an informative history of the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) as we waited for our group to gather and for any onlookers to join us. We were comprised of mostly Americans from all regions of the U.S., but with a couple of things in common - the ability to ride a bike and a somewhat adventurous spirit.

We visited the Ecole Militaire (Royal Military Academy), which was founded by Louis XV in 1751. Its objective was to make poor gentlemen into military men. Napoleon Bonaparte was trained here in 1784.

Not all of Paris is busy roads filled with micro cars. There are plenty of wide pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as weekly open markets.

On this particular day, we got a taste of the French proclivity for protests. Unfortunately, we couldn't read the French banners or understand the French chants. Judging by their attire, we guessed they were medical personnel.

Our next stop was Napoleon's Tomb at the Dome Church, built in 1715. The dome is actually double, a fact unknown to the Germans of World War II. Hitler visited and stayed for three hours, apparently communing with Napoleon. At the same time, two Allied servicemen were hiding in the dome, waiting to be smuggled out of the city with intelligence information. Neither knew the other was there!

Next up was Hôtel des Invalides, founded by Louis XIV to shelter 7000 aged or crippled former soldiers. A small portion is still used as a hospital. Napoleon's cannons line the front.

After passing over the Alexander Bridge, we arrived at Place de la Concorde, the largest public square in Paris, which is flanked by Champs-Élysées to the west and the Tuileries Gardens to the east.

We made a delightful stop at an open cafe in the Gardens, La Terrasse de Pomone. I ordered a cheese crepe and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, someone spilled their wine and thoroughly soaked my crepe, so I cannot tell you if was as good as the ones from the crepe stand in Le Marais or not.

Our final stop was the Louvre art museum. Our guide related this one amazing fact: if you were to spend one minute with each work of art and did this 24 hours a day, it would take nine months to see everything! It is a true treasure and you should go if you have the chance.

This bike tour was one of the highlights of our trip. We saw so much in four hours!

My blog is at http://thistledewfornow.blogspot.com if you would like to see pictures.


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