Saturday, August 30, 2014

Prague

Thursday was "scatter" day.  Kara and Bill left for Paris the day before and Keith, Marge and Steve left for Vienna the same morning we left for Prague.  It was a long travel day from Budapest to Prague but a stop in Bratislava, capital of Slovokia, broke it up.  I didn't realize we would be traveling through yet another country so that bumped us up to 8 countries, languages and currency!

Here is how we got the current Czech Republic and Slovokia.  After WW I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the nation of Slovaks and Czechs established their mutual state -Czechoslovakia. A separate Slovak state existed during World War II and was a client state of Nazi Germany (from 1939 to 1944). In 1945 Czechoslovakia was re-established. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia.

This town reminded me of the beautiful villages that dot the Rhine River that we have enjoyed on other cruises in Germany.  Finally we were emerging from the recent communist influence that had scarred the countries we had visited.

We walked the cobblestone streets beneath a canopy of trees and were told the significance of what was once a major player in Hungary.  It is now a college town.  Lunch was included and was tasty but weird looking.  It was beef (pot roast sort of) with what looked like slices of undercooked bread that turned out to be dumplings covered with what we thought was mustard sauce but was pumpkin!  Ted of course asked for one without sauce and was given meat, roasted potatoes and grilled peppers.  Everyone was jealous except the one lady who got the same thing as her gluten free lunch.

We had left at 8 am and it was 6 pm when we arrived in Prague.  We ate in the hotel with a couple we have befriended from Virginia.  He worked in the Reagan administration as a czar but has been a retired pediatrician for some time now.  

The next day was a walking tour of the Palace area of Prague.  Most of these opulent complexes are now government buildings or museums.  We visited St. Vita's Cathedral but toured the rest of the area from the outside.  We planned to return another day to go inside some of the buildings but we never made it back.

In the afternoon we boarded a bus for the ride to Sychrov, a chateau built by a noble French family named Rohan.  It was passed through generations before being confiscated by the government after WW II but was later returned to the family in the 1990s.  A special treat was a short concert performed in the chapel on the 18th century organ, by the local music school's principal.  He was joined for the Ave Maria by a lady with the voice of an angel.  We really enjoyed that.

The house and its contents are remarkable.  Our docent was very good and certainly knew her history.  Europeans' ability to restore things to their original state is amazing.  Despite wars, natural disasters and normal wear, tearing something down to make it bigger, better or more modern is not an option.  The only modern things besides businesses in large cities that we have seen are the large concrete boxes of apartments that the communist governments built to house the people whose homes and land had been confiscated. 

Dinner was more usual for us - smoked salmon on lettuce, lasagna, tiramisu and the ever present goblet of wine.  Everyone slept on the way back to Prague.  We are all tiring from the constant activity and walking.  

Yesterday we visited Lesser Town in Prague.  Once again we rode the metro into the center of the city and had a wonderful walking tour of the area.  One highlight for me was visiting the church of Our Lady Victorious that houses the Infant of Prague statue.  We returned and attended Mass there today.  The black walnut and gold leaf of the altars are reminiscent of St. Michael's Church used in the wedding scene of The Sound of Music that we saw near Lake Constance in Austria years ago.

We were turned loose by our Program Director and finished the afternoon having a snack in a garden restaurant, walking Charles Bridge, visiting Lennon's Wall where I wrote Love from Texas and Ted did a drawing of Kilroy.  It started raining, the first we've had, and we took refuge under the bridge.  When it stopped enough we made our way to the Metro station to come home.  We stopped a station short to inspect Flora Mall as a place to have dinner then hopped back on for one more stop to our hotel.

We met our Virginia friends for dinner and decided to walk to the mall.  However, we walked the wrong way!  When we didn't come to it, we asked a lady and her gesturing and speaking Czech indicated we were heading in the wrong direction.  Bobbie's pedometer indicated we walked three miles by the time we reached the mall.

We ran into a couple from our group who said more of our group was in Coyote's inside so we headed there.  The manager shoved another table over so we all chatted until they had finished their meal.  After we ate, we tried to find ice cream for Bobbie but they only had a gelato store and she didn't want that so we decided to head back to the hotel.

We exited the mall at the Metro station level and not street level.  We were tired and decided to take the Metro.  The only way to get a ticket this late was from a machine and having the correct coins was going to be difficult.  Ian suggested we just chance it and ride the one stop without one.  We could hear the train coming so we ran to catch it.  Ted said police were in the hall but everyone was rushing past them and they didn't stop anyone.  Now we have to add Czech trains to our list of trains ridden without the proper ticket.  The other ones were in Strasbourg, France and Munich, Germany!  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  Other times it is a $250 fine!

Today after breakfast we attended an English Mass at Our Lady Victorious complete with organ music and a choir.  Afterwards we walked to the funicular and rode to the top of Petrin Hill.  There are lovely rose gardens, massive slates of The Stations of the Cross, an observatory, Mirror Maze and several other buildings.   We were headed to the 1/6 replica of the  Eiffel Tower.  The view from the top was spectacular and we were able to recognize most landmarks.  It was cool and rainy so we stopped for a hot drink before heading back down.  The rain stopped so we strolled around a bit, had a bite for lunch and eventually rode the Metro back to the hotel.

This evening was our farewell dinner at the Lobkowicz Palace.  The view was great but not very different from what we had seen from Petrin Hill earlier in the day.  Our dinner was nice and the rain had stopped by the time we got back to our hotel.  We wished everyone safe travels and packed up all we could.  That 2:15 wake up call for the 3:15 airport departure will roll around quickly.

Next stop - the piney woods of East Texas.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gorgeous Budepest, Hungary

We have spent the last two days in Budapest, described as the Pearl of the Danube.  The lighting at night on the palace, St. Matthias Church, Parliament and several other buildings does make it one of the most beautiful by night.  I used my I-Pad to take these few photos.  The rest are on my camera and will be included in my photo blog later.

 



We had a tour in the morning that took us to Heros Square on the Buda side of the city.  All the rulers starting with King Stephen, later to become St. Stephen, were displayed on a curved ballistrade.  Above them were chariots representing war and peace.  It is an area used frequently for patriotic celebrations.  From there we went to the palace area.  The huge complex was stripped by the Russians after WW II of every last furnishing so it does not have tours.  

We visited the church of St. Matthias known as the Coronation Church.  Queen Elizabeth (Sisi) of the Hapsburg family climbed the 100 steps to her coronation as wife of Franz Josef, son of Maria Theresa Hapsburg of Austria.  Marie Antoinette (France) and Maximillan (Mexico) were also two of her 12 children who lived, four died as children. Their mother's plan to unite the world through marriage did not work out.

We visited a Hilton hotel built around ruins of a monastery.  Zha Zha Gabor was instrumental with her Hungarian heritage and her marriage to Conrad Hilton in acquiring permission to build the hotel.  The best thing about American hotels in Europe is the free, clean restrooms!   The Marriott, Intercontinental and Four Seasons were all visited by persons in our group in addition to the Hilton.

We climbed to the top of the balconies above the city for a spectacular view below.  Our guide was very good and pulled no punches that the 45 years after WW II under Russian communism was no better than the years under Hitler.  Of the Russians she said "the bastards forgot to leave" after WW II.  

After lunch we took a walk on our own through the city heading to a tour of the Opera House.  By decree of Franz Josef it is smaller than Vienna's Opera House but is more opulent inside to make up for it.  It was very nice but the "behind the scenes" info given in Vienna made it a more interesting tour for me.  On our way back to the ship we stopped at St. Stephen's Cathedral to visit.  

The next morning we took off on our own again to take the tour of Parliament.  It was a short walk and we stumbled on "the shoes."  Along the seawall are many pairs of bronze shoes laying about as being carelessly removed.  They represent the many Jews who were lined up on the edge of the river and shot, falling to their death in the river.  There are constant reminders in all of these Iron Curtain countries of the atrocities committed against their citizens.

We had some time to walk the area around parliament before our scheduled tour time.  We watched the military ceremony to raise the flag, took photos and tried to find the statue of Ronald Reagan.  The girl who sold us our tickets did not know, an employee in the Parliament building didn't know, a guard didn't know!  Finally the garbage man pointed us in the right direction but it took one more question of a tour guide for us to find the Teddy Roosevelt bronze statue on the bridge and Ronald Reagan.  There is nothing other than his signature to identify him.  I expected his quote "Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall" or at least identifying him as a US president!

We returned to the ship for lunch and then took off again to find a store selling cosmetics.  My foundation ran out and I wanted to get some more.   It took a good deal of walking and several inquiries to find a DM store, close to a Walgreen's in items.  The girl was so helpful in trying to match my color and since we are on our sixth currency I have no idea what it cost other than 3999 huf.  I will find out when Bank of America transacts the charge.  

It has been easy to not spend money because most of the time I didn't have the proper currency and many small vendors do not take charge cards.  Marge was unable to buy a blouse because her Discover card did not have a pin.  I ordered "chipped cards" and protective sleeves plus requested a pin for my cards before we left based on the info I had regarding charging in Europe.

Last night was our Captain's Farewell dinner and we turned in early to get our packing done.  Bags needed to be out at 7 am and we left for Prague this morning at 8 am.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Paprika is King

We sailed on to Kalocsa in Hungary and were not subjected to the face to face inspection.  The hotel manager of the ship was able to talk the Customs personnel at Mohacs into inspecting the crew only.  It saved the 125 passengers from getting out of bed in the early hours of the morning.

After breakfast we had a good discussion with the three program directors about what they know, remember or were told about life under communism.  One is Romanian, one a Croatian and the other a Serbian.  All three countries had different experiences.  Sorin is a very intelligent and funny young man who is a delight.  He spoke of the textbooks that to this day are wrong and very slanted toward socialism and against the "evil empire " that is the west.

He said they were not really taught much about the west.  What he learned came from Dallas on TV so he knew we all drove our Mercedes convertibles up to the gates of our property, drove another 20 miles to the front door, went inside to pour a drink and everyone screwed everyone else's wife!  He was disappointed when a friend came home from a trip to California and announced everyone didn't spend  the day at the beach like Baywatch but actually had jobs they went to every day!

It was an honest but light hearted discussion and very informative.  Only the Serbian admitted concern for the Ukraine situation playing out right now.  We finished up with our disembarkation info and then went to lunch.

In the afternoon we took a tour into Kalocsa.  Our first stop was a ranch of sorts where we learned DNA has proven the Hungarians are descendents of Mongolians.  Their prime beef stock are gray oxen that are huge.  Their protein type is not digestible by humans so they are work animals.  Their beautiful horses are Arabian and Mongolian.  We were treated to an amazing horse show.  

From there we attended a Hungarian folk dance demonstration and an embroidery demonstration.  If you have ever seen a modern embroidery set up with computers making thousands of stitches you can have an idea of watching these women doing the same thing using a non electric Singer sewing with a treadle being rocked by their feet.  Absolutely gorgeous items were produced.

Our last stop was the Paprika Museum.  This area apparently supplies a good percentage of the world's paprika.  This one small item is the savior of this small village.  I didn't know paprika is made from chilis and other than sprinkling it on top of deviled eggs, don't use it often.  There were samples to try but I didn't eat any.

Last night after dinner the crew presented a comedy show.  I didn't stay for the whole thing mainly because I couldn't see.  Two women chose to sit on the arms of the couches in the third row.  That made them head and shoulders above anyone else and blocked the view of all behind them.  It amazes me when people are so indifferent to those around them.  

Today we are in Budapest and I am excited to see this lovely city. 

 

Croatia

We docked in the city of Vucovar on Sunday morning.  We were coming face to face with the people and place of the Serbian/Croatian war of 1991-1995.  Vucovar was 90% demolished and the citizens were all forced to leave, most with none of their possessions.  Only the Danube separates these countries and it would be equivalent to Kentucky attacking Ohio at Cincinnati.  I studied the map and was surprised to see that we are across the Adriatic Sea from the peninsula of Italy.  What was Yugoslavia is now all the individual Slavic nations, each struggling to be their own country.  The further east you go, the closer to Russia and the Middle East you get.  A march by Russia westward could overtake any and all of these countries.  First up on the map - Ukraine!  Is history going to repeat itself?  
Was Romney correct about Russia after all?

It was amazing that so much had been rebuilt since the end of the war.  However, beautifully rebuilt/restored buildings stand next to bombed out buildings and homes owned by people who never returned.  The previous population of 45,000 now stands at 30,000.  I will share pictures of this contrast later.  We took a riding tour of the city and the resilience of the people is amazing.  The town is once again experiencing normal life but the scars of the war run deep.  

Traveling on to Osijek we stopped at an old fortress that was never used as such but is a neighborhood unto itself.  We visited St. Anthony Church which is part of a monastery among many government and school buildings.  While the Christian Orthodox Church had been the majority in the other countries, Croatia is Roman Catholic.  There were no bombed out buildings still in ruins but bullet holes and shellings were visible on many.  

The government gave people 40% of what they thought people needed to repair their homes.  Some had returned to find them occupied by Serbians.  You had to prove the property was yours which was difficult with no records available.  Eventually the Serbians were made to return across the river to Serbia and government records with neighbors as witnesses were used to determine ownership.

We headed out to the country for our Home Hosted luncheon.  Our family was a grandmother, a 44 year old widow of 9 years and a 22 year old daughter who spoke perfect English.  Their neighborhood had been so damaged that when the father returned he had difficulty determining which pile of rubble had been his home.  They were not given enough to return their home to its former size and stones and bricks are still stacked by the barn out back.

We had a lovely time and meal with this gracious family who were willing to share their story with us.  Our meal was vegetable soup, meat patties similar to individual meatloaves, mashed potatoes, wax beans, peas, slaw, bread and a walnut cake and cherry strudel.  Most everything came from their garden.  I always enjoy meeting these local families and talking one on one with them.  We explored their garden and walked to the back of their property that ends at the Danube.  Such a large lot is unusual.

On our return trip, our bus stopped at the bombed out water tower for pictures and Ted and I chose to walk back to the ship.  As we approached a small commercial area we noticed a building totally bombed out inside with much damage outside.  There were beautiful pink flowers cascading from each window.  I asked Ted  how would someone get those flowers up there.  We later learned the owner decided to not repair the building but to place the flower boxes (no one explained how!) each year as a memorial to the war and the continual perseverence of the people of Vovovar.  The house has appeared on the cover of National Geographic.

All week we have been taking photos, determined by our program directors, for a contest.  A member of our group had to also be in the photo.  There were four entries and all were shown as slideshows in the lounge.  We were the only group to get all 20 scenarios and the only one to have one of us in the photos.  Apparently not everyone read the directions.  That aside, our presentation was more entertaining overall.  Some shots were posed and others were accomplished by standing near the person you were trying to capture with them being unaware.  The directive to "hug a statue" was accomplished with Keith grabbing a nude lady sculpture on her breasts which brought lots of laughs.  We were named the Mooners (for honeymooners) and our last shot was my hand raised to a level that put the butt of a nude statue in my palm.  No question, we were the winners!

After dinner we were entertained by a quartet playing local music.  

We are traveling to Hungary today and were advised we have to appear for a face check against our passport to the local authorities.  Kara is concerned because her photo was taken before her weight loss and the difference is remarkable.  She is going to take her drivers license also.



Serbia

We had a complete day on the river heading to Serbia.  There are activities all day long to pass the time.  We went through Iron Gates I and II which are locks that opened the river for transport.  Then we proceeded down the gorge that was spectacular.  Several places along the Danube are actually canals dug to enable ships to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea.  This trip completes for us that entire journey having traveled the western end from Amsterdam to Vienna in 2006.

Our day in Belgrade started at a gorgeous park, Kalemegdan, built around the old fortress.  This fortification was built and destroyed so many times that the building materials are a mixture of stone favored by the Turks and Austrian bricks.  It is very well preserved.  The park boasts tennis courts, basketball courts, a terrific view of the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers along with large trees, walkways, etc.  The Natural Museum of History is also located here.  The weather was perfect for a morning spent in the outdoors.

Our next stop was at Tito's Memorial.  He was the leader of the combined country of Yugoslavia which was formed by the many Slavic states into one country after WW II.  It lasted until the fall of the USSR in the early 90s.  I need to read up on him but he seems to have done better for his people under socialism than the others.  He used the combined resources and available manpower to rebuild the infrastructure of the country.  Instead of providing the bare minimum to the people, they were provided a decent lifestyle but were still wards of the state from a financial and freedom standpoint.  At his passing he was greatly honored by world leaders and his own people.  

Our guide who lived through this period said the condo he was allowed to purchase for about $2000 under socialism is now worth $65,000.  I guess he is a good example of making socialism and capitalism work for you.  We were told the average wage today is about $500 a month, a 40% tax rate plus a 20% VAT tax when you spend your money.  Serbia is not part of the EU and I assume that is due to their economy.  One American dollar equals 80 dinars and you purchase things in the tens of thousands.  I think our baby clothes purchase was 50,000 dinars!

Our last stop was at St. Sava's Cathedral.  This church is beautiful from the outside and we were there for the noon ringing of the bells.  Its construction was interrupted by WW II and taken up again in 1970.  The entire inside is concrete at this time and is to be covered totally in mosaics.  Since there are only donations to continue the work I think its completion ranks up there with the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota as really never expected to be completed.  At least not in my lifetime. 

We returned to the ship for lunch and then rode the shuttle bus back into the city center to walk the pedestrian mall area.  We located a children's store and purchased three outfits for our cruise director's expected baby girl, Sophia.  She is due the last day of this cruise and everyone has their fingers crossed that he can complete the cruise and fly back to Bucharest before her arrival.

We only have wifi when we are in port or pass a larger city along the river, which doesn't last long, but I want to get as much as I can remember written down.  I have no way to download my camera to my I-Pad so the photos I have posted have been pulled from Kara's Facebook page.  Once I have them on my computer at home I will do a recap of the best photos with a brief description.

I think a blog may have posted out of sequence so be sure to look back to read both the Bucharest and Bulgaria posts.

Today we visit Croatia.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bulgaria


We eventually docked at the Bulgarian city of Ruse and departed for the ancient city of Veliko Tarniva, Bulgaria's former capital.  


So much of what I learned in World History and Geography just isn't anymore.  It gets a bit confusing and you can only imagine the upheaval for the citizens of the area with the constant turmoil. 

We stopped for lunch at a typical Bulgarian restaurant for a native dish of Kavarma, sort of chicken stew.  It was quite good.

Our next stop was the village of Arbanassi which was built with extensive fortifications to protect its citizens.  Again, my photos are on my camera!  

I am glad we started our trip in the east and are moving west.  Conditions under communust rule seemed to be harshest the further east that you were.  Things are improving each day in the local cities and villages.  Observing the aftermath of 50 years of this rule and the last 25 years trying to recover makes me wonder how anyone can consider socialism as a viable government.  Our program director for instance is a young married man expecting a baby girl at the end of this month.  He lives with his wife, both employed, in a 600 sq. ft. condo.  They never expect to be able to afford a trip to the USA.

All three directors lived only a short time under the communist rule since they are in their late 20s.  They have no trouble making fun of things from the communist regime such as a restaurant that was supposed to overlook the water but was never finished as shown in this photo taken in Constanza, Romania.


They are quick to point out communist architecture which are the gray concrete boxes.  One such building was constructed four stories high and found to have no plumbing whatsoever.  People had to move in anyway.  Imagine an outhouse for your family four floors down!  Some are in such a state that I incorrectly assumed they were not inhabited.  I was assured many families lived in these ugly buildings.

We traveled on and docked at the city of Viden to visit the Baba Vida fortress.  I learned the Roman garrisons actually made their own bricks, marked with their symbol to build fortifications throughout the early Roman Empire.  It is easy for archeologists to follow a garrison's march through territory as they claimed land for the empire by using these marked building materials.  It has been determined that along the way they discovered round walls withstood cannon fire much better than right angles did as newer construction gave way to this discovery.  A bridge connecting Bulgaria to Romania can be seen in the distance but true to government inefficiency it took one year after its completion for the roads to it to be built so it sat useless for that time.


I will share some photos of life for us on the ship.


Sunrise on the Danube.


A roasted pig at lunch.


Our group at our table for lunch and dinner.



Typical dessert presentation.

The food has been fabulous.  I try things I would never prepare or order at home and so far have not found anything I didn't like.  Some folks ask for "this, but not that" and "can I have" and ask for things not on the menu but I just eat it as listed.  It it one meal out of thousands in my lifetime and I see no reason to make a fuss over one.


Our three program directors in native Bulgarian costumes.  One evening we had a dance company perform for us.  Another night was a dance contest.  You had to guess how many folks would dance to certain songs.  We didn't win but had fun dancing.  I danced once with Ted, once with Steve and we all did the Twist, Chicken Dance and YMCA!

Bucharest, Romania

Monday morning we had breakfast and then checked out of the hotel.  Plans for the day were a city tour of Bucharest, meeting up with the pre-trip Transylvania people for lunch and then travel to Constanza on the Black Sea to board our ship.

I have to admit my world current events knowledge in  the 1980s was minimal.  I was shocked to learn it was just 25 years ago that the dictator Ceausescu of Romania was overthrown and executed by the people who had enough of life under his rule.  There was not enough food, electricity was shut off at night, people were forced into labor to complete massive projects, neighbors spied upon neighbors.  In December of 1989 troops were sent to a small village to retaliate against a preacher who spoke out against the government.  Townspeople were murdered.  When the news reached Ceausescu he called for a rally in Bucharest.  A thousand people gathered and instead of listening to him, they railed against him.  Snipers on buildings started shootiing and killed almost 1200 people.  Ceausescu was found, arrested, tried and found guilty of genocide.  He and his wife were both executed immediately.

Today Bucharest is a bustling crossroads to the Middle East and western Europe.  Many fine, historical buildings have been restored but many are still in court over ownership from when property had been confiscated by the government. 


 There are many socialist architecture buildings better known as concrete boxes.  The parks that had been built to turn Bucharest into little Paris are a saving grace for the city.  This is an example of what they refer to as communust architecture.  Notice the Sex Shop next to Christian Travel Agency!


An area the size of Venice had been leveled by Ceausescu when in power destroying many historical neighborhoods.  Work on the second largest building in the world was started.  Today the People's Palace is encircled by unfinished portions, the grounds are not maintained well.  So much history had been destroyed to make room for Ceausescu's dream which certainly wasn't in the best interest of the citizens.


We met up with Steve, Keith and Marge at the restaurant and after lunch boarded the bus for the 3.5 hour ride to Constanza.  

We were welcomed aboard the M/S Concerto around 5:00.  At 6:15 everyone met in the lounge to meet the captain and crew, to be advised of how things work while cruising and a port talk on today's happenings.

Monday was a city tour of the beach resort town of Constanza.  Ted used the camera to take pictures so I can only use the others' Facebook posts to share.  



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Behind the Iron Curtain

Our last days before leaving passed quickly.  Ted and I both won at cards, first place for me at my table, second for him at his.   My dimes runneth over!

We had our newest neighbor join our luncheon group and Thursday was my first chance to meet her. She is a nice addition to our group and fit in very well.  I did some errand running afterwards to get ready to leave.

I was up and out by 7:45 with my casserole in hand on Friday.  August is the big six month sign up for my volunteer work.  In addition to the food item, I had to help Nina register workers for the two events we are responsible for in November and December.  I learned I will get 27 hours at the four days of those events.  Added to my 12 I have put in already, I won't have trouble hitting 50 before next May.  Of course you can always go over.  I signed up for the nursing home Christmas party and September senior luncheon so that's another 5.5 hours.  I can easily get the remaining hours in March and April.

Terry took us to the airport on Saturday.  We walked right up to the counter to check in, spent minimal time in the security line and by one hour after leaving home we were at the gate.  I hate KLM for overseas travel.  Your personal space is such that you can hardly cut your food because you can't move your elbows out to do it.  The overhead light and air vent gets shared with those around you because you are so close.  I had the light blanket thrown across my shoulders the entire flight due to the lady behind me having her vent going full blast.  I am sure she didn't realize I was getting more  of the cool air than she was.  Air France is way better.  But we made our way to Amsterdam then walked a l-o-n-g way to the next gate to Bucharest.  Here we met up with many others heading to the same tour.  There was more room on this smaller plane than the 747.

We were met by GCT reps and made our way to our bus where we sat and waited for the delayed Vienna flight.  Here is our bus reflected in the building opposite us.


Check in at the hotel got messed up when our key was not in the pile.  They got us another key and we proceeded to walk in on Rojacs who had been given our key.  We then were given the room next door and the front desk switched the records.  Mrs. Rojacs had not noticed the name written on the card.  

We cleaned up a bit and had a taxi come to take us to church at 5 pm.  That all went well until we arrived to find despite the info on the website, Mass was at 6 pm in Romanian, not 5 pm in English.  So we had to flag down another taxi to take us back.  We tried!

Kara and Bill had arrived from Cluj and checked in.  We all met for the 6:30 welcome meeting before dinner.  Directions were given for today's city tour and transfer to the ship.

Dinner was great and we all cleaned our plates.  Yeah!  I had elbow room and free wine.


This is the pool at the hotel.  Exceptionally nice! 


 By this time I had been up over 30 hours.  Kara was going to Skype with the kids at 9:00 but I was asleep by then.  Not a bad travel day but not a great one either.  Bottom line, we arrived safely.

We have been cautioned that this is NOT western Europe.  After Hitler and communust Russia, these countries are still taking steps to make their way along side western democratic countries.  I am sure they are watching the Russia/Ukraine situation very closely but nothing was said.

We will meet up some time today with Keith, Steve and Marge.  They did the Transylvania pre-tour.  I hope they enjoyed it. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hoping For Another "No Monkey" Week

We had a delicious dinner at Terry and Carol's on Sunday.  Irene came too so the five of us played cards afterwards.  I was doing great until the last two hands!  But I won Saturday night and Ted came in second at his table so my dime purse is still full.

Monday we waited for the ADT guy to come service our alarm system.  Chris had trouble with it in our absence and we didn't want that to continue.  Apparently one of the front windows was not all the way down and not locked properly.  A good wind could rattle it enough to make a momentary disconnect that set off the alarm.  He fixed that and replaced the sensor in the garage door to the house.  We go in and out there mostly and I guess it was worn down a bit.  I hope that fixes the problem.  Poor Chris was getting flustered.  He had inspected all the doors but didn't think about the windows.

Tuesday I worked at the Back to School shot clinic.  Uninsured children can get caught up on all shots needed to enter school for $10.  We knew the border situation would affect our numbers.  Last year in 6 days we did 200+ children.  Our first day was yesterday and we did 102!  They started arriving 3 hours before we even opened!  

There are packets of 5 pieces of paper that had been put together incorrectly which caused a problem right off the bat.  I assessed the situation, took the bull by the horns and set out putting them together correctly and quickly so they could be passed out.  In the time it took the lady I was working with to put together one, I had about 7 done and ready to go.  Each packet also needed a number attached to it and that number recorded on the shot record attached.  The gal in charge assigning jobs told me to "go for it" so I put the first 100 together, all the while asking new arrivals three questions.  Has the child been out of the country in the past year?  How old is the child?  Do you have Medicaid, CHIPS or any kind of medical insurance?  Most telling answer of the day "He arrived from Honduras 8 days ago."

The out of the country question determined the need for a TB test, we only vaccinated ages 4-17 and if you had insurance of any kind you were not eligible.  When I finished the first 100 packets that were used yesterday, I got the next 100 packets ready for today.  Then I put the second set of numbers in order so someone can start the third set of 100 packets today for use tomorrow.  If those numbers keep up all week, they need to be ready first thing in the morning.  

I was tired when I got home but Ted had dinner ready and after eating all we did was get suitcases out and I looked over what he had laid out.  I think he may be a bit color blind because what he thinks goes together "ain't necessarily so!"  We also are missing a small carry on suitcase.  Probably one of the kids needed it to go home once and we all forgot about it.  International carry-ons are smaller than what we use in the U.S.  So Ted will go buy an inexpensive one today.  That beats getting charged $100 going and/or coming on the plane when they make you check it.

Today I need to take two gallons of tea to a funeral lunch at church.  It is the easy way out but I was gone all day yesterday and have a hair appointment at 2:00 today just when the lunch is scheduled.  Fixing something was just not on my radar this time.  We have dinner and cards tonight starting at 5:30 with the group of 40 that we play with once a month.

Steve, Keith and Marge, relatives from Connecticut, leave today for Transylvania and will join us in Constanza on Monday where we board our riverboat.  Kara and Bill leave tomorrow for Cluj, Romania and will meet up with us in Bucharest on Sunday.  There is a 5:00 Mass in English in Bucharest 3 miles from the hotel.  Our tour director said he will get us a taxi if we arrive at the hotel in time.  I hope we can make it because the next two Sundays we won't be able to because of the itinerary.  

Church isn't where you meet. Church isn't a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ.  Let's not just go to Church, let's be the Church ~ Bridget Willard


 




Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Countdown Begins

I had a good week getting things done and being places I needed to be last week.  I hope this week turns out as well.

Lazy Boy picked up the loveseat Tuesday and returned it on Saturday, I attended training for the Back to School shot blitz clinic, I had my hair cut and nails done, I took food to and worked at a funeral luncheon at church, did the laundry, cleaned the house, got my clothes and things ready for packing and hosted Shanghai here Saturday night.  Sunday we were invited to Terry and Carol's for dinner.

This week I will work at the shot clinic, play Shanghai with the couples' group, attend my neighborhood luncheon and fix a casserole to take to our Forum sign up meeting where I need to monitor sign ups for the Children's Festival and the Christmas Gift Distribution for the Women's Shelter.


Then we will pack our bags, give Chris a big hug for taking care of things "back at the ranch" in our absence and board KLM for a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam followed by a 2 hour flight to Bucharest.  We will travel to Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.  It is our first venture into Eastern Europe having covered western Europe pretty well.

Of the five couples here for Shanghai Saturday night, three of us are jet setting this week.  One is going to Argentina, the other to the Galapagos Islands.  What fun it is to share stories and photos the next time we meet. 

"Years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.” – Mark Twain



Monday, August 4, 2014

Staying Busy

We had a rainy day to drive to Carthage and arrived to find the office closed.  We drove around trying different spots but hadn't found one long enough when a guy on a golf cart arrived and took us towards the back where the longer sites are.  I am glad I had on my crocs because I was in standing water while we got set up.  Thankfully we didn't need to unhitch and went inside and stayed there.  No grillng those steaks for dinner!

I took the time to start getting all the clothes, food and laundry together that needed to go in the truck to be taken home.  Friday was sunny and the temps were mild.  We had braced ourselves for 90s and 100s but that didn't happen.  We arrived home around noon and set up in a nearby park.  We came home, surprising Chris who wasn't expecting us until Saturday.  Since he will return in two weeks he closed his bedroom door, did his Arnold impersonation declaring "I'll be back." 

Ted returned to wash the trailer and I started on the laundry and putting the other clean clothes and food away.  It took several hours but when I drove to the campground the house was in order, laundry was done and Ted was finished washing the trailer.  Yeah!  We finally didn't make a mess!  The steaks were grilled for dinner and we ate outside at the picnic table.  Spectacular weather!

Saturday was cleaning day.  I changed the sheets so we are good next time out, cleaned the bathroom, emptied the refrigerator and cleaned it good, vacuumed and got the last of our things together and headed for home.  Then I tackled the mail.  The truck license plate needed renewing, lots of filing of medical things Medicare sends quarterly plus a few EOBs from our supplemental policies, dividend statements, phone bills for Ted's expense account, etc.  I had mail and emails from both Grand Circle Tours and Norwegian about our upcoming trips so I created two piles, one for each so I could manage all the paperwork.  It took awhile but I got it under control.

Our neighbors asked us to go to the grand opening of a new 55+ community with them so we met them around 4:00.  The houses were beautifully decorated but were either too small or too big.  I didn't like how they used space.  Rooms were disjointed and nothing floated my boat or Ted's.  After a little wine, some sandwiches and mini desserts we headed to the church nearby and attended Mass.  By the time I got home I was stiff all over.  Two days of physical labor had done me in! 

Sunday I tackled my trip piles.  First up, Eastern Europe.  I made sure we have our air itinerary handy in addition to passports and proof of additional medical insurance and evacuation insurance to enter the Czeck Republic.  Medicare doesn't work outside the U.S. and they apparently don't want non-covered folks hanging around their country.  Novel idea!

We are traveling to seven countries, all with different money.  Using the euro in western Europe is so convenient now, that this will seem archaic, not to mention a lot of math figuring each one out.  I made several bank phone calls to determine which credit/debit cards offer the best rates on foreign transactions and at ATMs.  I also advised them of our travel plans.  I had to spell some of the countries for the young man taking the info!  The other young lady couldn't find Serbia and then finally announced "There it is.  It's just a little orange dot!"  

With that done, I proceeded to make a tomato/cucumber/onion salad and black forest cake for our next party which consisted of the 14 folks going to Panama.  Irene and her deviled eggs rode to Gerre's with us.  Again the weather remained pleasant and was so enjoyable.  We made good headway on agreeing on dining times, excursions, transportation to and from, etc.  It is a good group and should be a lot of fun.  I am in charge of booking ground transportation for all of us on our return and will do that today.

I'll settle down when my 'To Do' list is smaller than my 'Been There, Done That' list.


Author Unknown







Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Last Week Out

After church Sunday morning we headed out to visit with our old neighbors from the last place we lived in Cincinnati.  It is amazing how years just melt away and you can pick up like it was yesterday.  It has been two years since Marge and Steve visited us in Celina, OH but it was many years before that since we had seen them.  They live in a different area now and have a gorgeous home on a huge lot complete with swimming pool.  We had a great time, delicious dinner and it was late when we left.  Visits like this are why we try to spend time in Cincinnati each year.  There are so many friends and so much family to visit.

We hadn't seen any of Ted's family so we met his two sisters and a sister-in-law for lunch on Monday.  Kath and Peg were on their lunch hour and Barb was heading to work.  In retirement you sometimes forget not everyone can just come and go as they please.  We had lots of laughs and got caught up on family news before it was time for them to return to the salt mines.

Since we were close to Sam's we stopped to get the brats we forgot to get at Kroger's.  We are now good to go!  We grilled some for dinner and just as we were finishing up Ted's brother Kevin stopped by the campground so Ted threw a couple brats on the grill for him.  I was glad he was able to spend some time with us before we left the next morning.

Tuesday was an 8 hour travel day back to Sikeston MO and dinner once again at Lambert's.  Ted wanted to stop at Vanity Fair to get some cotton slacks to take to Europe and after that it was showers and bed.

We only had a two hour drive on Wednesday to Marion, Arkansas.  We planned to spend the afternoon and evening with our camping buddies Rick and Brenda.  They have moved into a newly built cottage on his brother's property where he boards horses and has been building and improving the entire facility.  We went out to the pasture to see the four horses in residence.





They actually live in Millington TN but with the horrendous construction we chose to hold up on I-55, set up for the day and drive the rest of the way in the truck.  That way we can take the same detour today that we used on the way up. 

Our first surprise when we arrived was a Pinnacle 5th wheel in place of their motorhome.  They traded just the day before.  It is a 2013 and a terrific layout.   It is good they will get back on the road even if it is not full time.

Brenda arrived home from work and eventually we headed to the Pig N Whistle restaurant, housed in what was once an old general store.  The special was a half rack of ribs and we all got that but Rick.
Afterwards they showed us places where they lived growing up before going back.  


I did not kiss the pig!


When we returned Mike and Barbara were putting the horses in the barn for the night and we spent some time with them.  It was our first chance to meet Barbara.  Mike's wife Nancy died shortly after the last time we were there and he and Barbara have been married for a few years now.  She was delightful and obviously a hard worker.

The drive back through the construction with no street lights on in most places was a harrowing experience.  It was a relief to get back onto I-55 but the way to get to the southbound side where the campground is was darker than the construction zone, but we made it.

Today we head to Carthage, Texas.  




Sunday, July 27, 2014

Our Day at the Lake

The weather was supposed to be rainy Saturday and get even worse on Sunday.  But we ended up with a glorious day at the lake.  The weather held off all day.

This was our first time driving around the lake to Tim and Cindy's new place.  Previously we were always staying with Karen whose cabin is close to the front and we took the boat over.  The road is horrendous!  There were times I wasn't sure our dually truck would make it up some of the hills with the road bed non existent.  But we made it and parked at the top of their drive for fear of not being able to get out.

Their son Brian with pregnant wife Laura and son Jameson were there as well as their pregnant  daughter Amy.  Landon was home building a garage.  Their son Ron, whose wife is expecting twin girls, was not there since Sarah is on bed rest.  They will have 6 grandkids under four by January. 

In the next cove, nephew Dave was down and joined us while nephew Little Dan and family were using Eddie's cabin.  Everyone was out on boats or swimming in the lake.

We arrived just as Tim and Brian had secured a walnut top on the outdoor stone bar.  It was from a tree off their property in Indiana.  They took it to a sawmill to be dried and sawed into planks.  It was beautiful wood. 


The wood all needs to be stained as well as the bartop.  They have accomplished so much but want to do so much more.  Right now there is a contest to name the moose!



Cindy has done a good job decorating in a western motif.  Here is the main bath.  Note the horseshoe toilet roll holders.  I loved the use of real stirrups as hand towel holders.



We visited for awhile and then took a ride on the pontoon boat. There was a concert going on so we headed that way.

It was crowded and the music hadn't started so we continued on our way.  The kids were in a different boat and stayed. 


 We stopped at Tim's sister's place where they were all doing yardwork.  They stopped to visit for awhile and then we headed towards home.  We passed the beach and Jameson in the other boat.



After a wonderful dinner and lots of laughs we headed out about 8:30.  Ted wanted to drive out while it was still light.  Some of those hills you come over are like roller coasters and you can't see the road until you crest.  He would rather not do that in pitch black.  We made it home just in time because as soon as we sat down to watch TV the rain started.

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet. ~ Roger Miller

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Heading to the Lake

We arrived safe and sound in Cincinnati and were backed up to the lake in no time.  We ate leftovers for dinner and had a quiet evening after our drive.

I was excited for Wednesday because it was lunch day with Donna, Donna and Cookie.  These are my girlfriends from K-12.  Donna and Cookie picked me up and after hugging Ted and oohing and aahing over our new Mobile Suites, we headed to Cracker Barrel in Milford to meet up with one more Donna.  Her husband is suffering from dementia and by us going to her she would not be away from home as long. It was so wonderful to see them all.

We left the park at 10:30 and it was going on 4:00 when I got back.  More talking than lunch!  Our waitress checked on us periodically and then finally gave up!  I can't tell you what all we talked about but there was never a lull in the conversation.  I had a wonderful time!

Ted had the oil changed in the truck while we were gone and had lunch somewhere.  By 6:30 we decided we were hungry again and went to LaRosa's.  So now I have my pizza fix.  Kara and Bill are coming to Cincinnati next week for a concert so they will get Morgan her LaRosa's pizza sauce so we didn't have to do that.

Thursday we did a bit of shopping getting our food items to take home but we forgot the brats.  Now we have to go again.  But I did forego lunch to have a United Dairy Farm malt.  Two food items down, one to go.

At 4:00 we met Karen and Ron at the bank to handle some family business then returned to their house for dinner.  We were joined by Debbie and Joe who brought some family reunion items for 2015 to show me.  He has taken that job over since I "retired" from handling it.  We will be in Pigeon Forge next June at the Main Stay Suites.  We already know there are six babies on the way including two sets of twins!  Back to working on the family tree for me.  Keith had the 2013 version framed and hung in his office.  It is 3 feet by 6 feet and goes back 8 generations to 1832.


Friday we didn't do much but hang out here in the park.  Ted decided to go shooting since it is supposed to rain on Sunday.  I emailed my niece Jill and invited her to have dinner with me.  So after work she picked me up and we headed to Whiskey's in Lawrenceburg.  We had a drink, dinner and dessert!  She is such a delight, looks more like Kristin than either Kelly or Kara, and is a talented quilter. She is just finishing up a quilt for Kristin that is a wedding gift from my sister Laurie and her husband Spence.  Ted came home and we visited until after 10.


Today we are going to Owenton, KY to Elk Lake for the day.  Cindy and Tim invited us to stay overnight but we will go down and back so we are back here on Sunday morning.


Jameson and Lilly at the lake.

Good family life is never an accident but always an achievement by those who share it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Goodbye Michigan

Sunday morning we were getting us and the kids ready for church when Bill and Kara came home.  We then all met Pat and Kelly at church and sat with Pat's mother.  I think she was pleased going from all alone in the pew to a totally full one!

We saw several folks we know since this was our parish church for 16 years.  It was heartbreaking to see our friend Mary in a wheelchair totally not knowing where she was or who we were.  She and her husband Dick were our bowling partners when we bowled on the church league years ago.  We had a nice conversation with her daughter, Mary Ellen.  By the time we spoke to everyone, the church was about empty and they were locking the door.  That's pretty much how it was every Sunday when we lived there.

We returned to Kara's and assessed our food situation.  We decided we were in good shape.  I set about putting everything in baking dishes so we could put it all in the oven to bake.  Kara and Bill opened their gifts before we ate.  Cassie and Kyle came over too but Ally was working.

We said our goodbyes to the whole family after dinner.  Kara and family had a 6 am flight to Orlando on Monday while Kristin and Larry had a Sunday evening flight home to Orlando.  Kelly's family was already scattering getting ready for another work week.

We returned to the campground and had a fire with Jay and Stella.  On Monday we drove back in to colllect the rental and personal items from the wedding.  The Mission Possible Methodist teens were cleaning the  church and helped carry everything out.  Our first stop was at the rental place to drop off two bags of linens, two drink decanters and a large silver tub that had held small bottles of water.  The other things belonged to Kara.  Larry's reflective circle for photos and Bill's golf umbrella had also been left behind.  We took all of these things to Kara's where I picked up my jewelry, left Sam's Game Boy cassette and brought the trash cans into the garage.  With our chores done we returned to the campground.

Ted did the outside work while I thoroughly cleaned inside the trailer.  It actually wore me out.  For our goodbye dinner, the four of us went to the Romeo diner.  It was only the second time we ate there the whole month.  We burned all but three logs of our wood in our last fire on our last night together.

This morning we left a bit before Jay and Stella and traveled I-75 to Cincinnati.  They were heading north to Sioux Ste. Marie.  We are all set up in our usual campground and settled in.  After dinner we took showers and I took a nap.  I think the activity of the last month caught up with me.

Tomorrow starts lots of visiting with as many folks as we can fit in.   We also need to stock up on our goetta, turtle soup, brats and Skyline chili to take home.  It will be a busy, fun week before heading out for home.  We plan to stay in the Memphis area one night so we can visit with Rick and Brenda.  They have come off the road and are anxious for us to see their new place of residence.

If the power to do hard
work is not a skill, it's the best possible substitute for it. ~ James Garfield