Making the Ultimate Sacrifice

With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday approaching, it is quite fitting that Veteran’s Day is also observed in the same month.  To the thousands of women and men who give and have given so much to their country, I say Thank You.  Especially to my father, my favorite veteran.

Last June, G and I spent a weekend in the Normandy region of France.  Resting on a bluff above the beaches is the Normandy American National Cemetery & Memorial, appropriately the largest American cemetery in Europe.  It cradles the graves of 9,387 American soldiers which include 41 pairs of brothers.  There is also a memorial to 1,557 soldiers who were never found.  Upon entering the cemetery, you are led on a short walk surrounded by trees.  As you round the corner and look to your left, the initial sight of thousands of grave markers stretched out for acres is one of the most sobering feelings I have ever experienced.  Then, it’s hard to compose yourself as you look to your right.  Omaha Beach is serene and the tide quietly laps at the shoreline.  Yet 66 years ago, it was where many gave all.

Costa del Sol ~ Spain

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to spend a few days in Southern Spain on the Costa del Sol. As August came to a close, the local Dutch weather bureau noted we had just experienced “the wettest summer since 1906”. As you may have read in my last post, I have tried to maximize any opportunity to soak in the sun in an effort to ward off signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While some people think SAD is a bunch of hokey baloney, I honestly believe my mood is quite vulnerable to these long periods of rain and gloomy skies.

Enter my friend Barbara and her offer to spend a few days at her seaside property just outside of Marbella. How could I say no? The weather forecast was perfectly sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s F (~30 C) all week…which I guess is just par for the course since the Costa del Sol receives an average of 320 days of sun. Compared to Amsterdam’s average of 200 days of rain per year, this was a no-brainer.

During the week, we enjoyed lounging by the pool, walking on the beach, gorgeous sunsets, and terrace dining. From the terrace, we could see across the Mediterranean to the coast of Africa. Looking west also afforded views of the Rock of Gibraltor. Throughout the week we grazed on fabulous tapas of pimentos pardon, pulpo, jamon y manchego, gambas pil pil, Spanish meatballs, and melon wrapped prosciutto— I was glad I packed my running shoes to burn off a few calories!

The day before we left, Barbara drove us to Casares; a white-house village in the Sierra Bermeja with a population of about 3,000 people and beautiful views. The remains of a 12th century Moorish castle linger at the peak of the town and provide panoramic views of the picturesque town of Casares set against the mountains. The sun sparkled against the red-brown mountains which are dotted with orchards, olive trees, and cork woods. As we wandered the steep and narrow walkways nestled between the ancient white homes, the town was busy preparing for the upcoming annual festival, Feria del Cristo. Seeking shade under a patio umbrella, we enjoyed lunch at the tapas bar in the town square and noticed a few women gathered at the public water fountain chatting away. As I sat with a cold cerveza in hand and enjoyed the last few hours of warm sunshine tingling on my skin, G sent a message “Do not come home unless you bring the sun with you.” The last few days in Amsterdam had been a soaking wet and windy mess.

By some crazy miracle, I managed to fill his request. Upon my return, the weekend weather turned out better than originally forecast and the following week was filled with more sunny days than we have seen in weeks. Thank you Mother Nature.

CLICK HERE for a quick slideshow of my photos from Marbella and Casares.

If you plan to visit the Costa del Sol, check out Barbara’s property for your holiday stay. It’s a beautiful apartment with spectacular views, lush gardens, and pools all over the property with the beach only a few minutes’ walk away.  CLICK HERE to view property details.

En route to Varenna, Lake Como

 

[July 9, 2010]

Day 2

A quick breakfast, a stop at the local bodega for provisions and we are on the road—Lake Como or bust!  It wasn’t long before we hit the Swiss border and we could sense the Italian Lakes getting closer.  While August is typically a busy month for many Europeans to take holiday, it was quite obvious several were getting a jump start in July.  Nearly every other vehicle from The Netherlands, Belgium, or France had in tow either a camper, a set of bicycles, a roof box, or all of the above.

Once through the queue and across the Swiss border, the scenery was lush and mountainous.  Quite a change in topography having come from the Dutch “low lands”.  Driving through the Swiss Alps also meant navigating long dark tunnels (usually backed up with traffic) in order to slice through the terrain.  Day 2 of this stop-and-go traffic was again unkind to G’s feet enduring several crawling hours of clutch-brake-gas-clutch-gas-gas-clutch-brake-clutch-brake-gas-clutch-brake.

As signs for Lugano were appearing, we were soon rewarded with our first glimpse of the Italian Lakes with sunny views of Lake Lugano.  Lake Lugano splits the Swiss/Italian border and soon after crossing we had some extremely narrow and winding streets with high stone walls which no U.S. SUV would have cleared and retained both side view mirrors.  Continuing east-ish, we wriggled down the hill to reach the ferry landing at Menaggio on the western shore of Lake Como.  G brought the car to the queue while I purchased a ticket to cross the lake on the next ferry to Varenna.  Having been sheltered in the cool A/C of the car for several hours, I nearly melted when I went to the ticket window.  WOW, it’s hot here.

We were the last car to squeak in on the ferry and the cool breeze during the ride across was more than welcome as we stood on the deck and soaked up the panoramic views as we crossed the heart of Lake Como.  In about 15 minutes we arrived in Varenna.  Our next challenge was managing 10 hairpin turns (G calls them switchbacks) to whirl up the hill and reach our apartment.  We were both a bit nauseous from the twists and turns; but when we walked in, the views to accompany our home cooked meal were more than worth it.

Ciao,

R&G

*pardon fuzzy fotos from moving vehicle*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

German Christmas Markets


It’s Epiphany!  For some of you (like my nanay) it’s the day the Three Wise Men ended their journey in Bethlehem.  The Christmas season has concluded and it’s time to take the tree down.  For those of you in my beloved New Orleans, its Twelfth Night, y’all and the Carnival season has begun.  Did your slice of king cake have a baby in it today?  Ohhhh, how I miss the king cake!!!  And if you’re in Amsterdam, it was another typical Dutch day biking around in the rain.  While the baked good here are super lekker, it’s the land of licorice and stroopwafels so not a king cake in sight.  And with the New Year holiday now behind us, the oliebollens and appelflappens stands left town with the holiday tourists.

As every holiday owns a unique tradition, Germany is THE place to go to experience the authentic Christmas Markets.  My first visit to Germany was five years ago for a business trip.  It was during the month of November and while the States where preparing for Thanksgiving, Germany was gearing up for their Christmas markets.  Our client took us to dinner in a medieval town called Rothenburg.  It sounds cheesy, but it was like I stepped into a European snow globe.  With timber homes,  cobblestone streets and beautiful decor, I felt like I traveled back in time by a few hundred years.  Our client told us, “You should see it when the markets are here.”  Sadly, I had to return to the States before I had that opportunity, but mentally added the German Christmas Markets to my Bucket/Travel List.

Five years later, I was finally going to cross it off the list.  Or not.  Well maybe.  Or maybe not.  Two weekends before Christmas, major snow storms were sweeping through Germany and travel by car or train was not looking very optimistic.  We decided to make a game time decision on Saturday morning, but hotel choices were becoming scarce.  On Saturday morning, the weather looked better and we were muti-tasking with showers, packing, and hotel searching.  We buzzed our friends A&A and they were game to join our last minute excursion.  With an overnight bag packed and a not-our-first-or-second-choice-but-you-have-availability-so-we’ll-take-it-room, we were off to Cologne.

 

The drive was pretty smooth until the outskirts of Cologne.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one determined to hit the markets this weekend.  It was such a tease as we were so close, but yet stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.  Our first mug of glühwein was well deserved.  While it didn’t make the list of my Top 10 favorite drinks, it did mean we had finally arrived and the warm spiced wine ignited my Christmas spirit.   Our first market stop was in the town center at the Cologne Cathedral.  Here I made another mental note to return to Cologne and appreciate the history the city had to offer beyond the markets.

It was a bit of madness with thousands of people mashed into the city center.  But we made our way around to eat, drink, shop, and eat and drink more.  The next stop was the Alter Market where we found live Christmas music, gifts for our family, and a bier garten—for more, food, drink, and a thankfully a spot to sit down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, we stopped at a few other markets in Cologne before driving to the town of Aachen. Not surprising, it was pretty crowded as well and after a few hours we all felt like pinballs bouncing around nonstop.  The guys were shopped out and it was time to make the drive home. 

 

When I lived in NYC, no one batted an eye if your day involved activities throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.  The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium are not much different…except for the fact you can say you were in three countries in one day rather than three states.  We would be hungry for dinner long before we reached Amsterdam and agreed that a slight detour to Antwerp, Belgium was a perfect idea.  G and I love the Kathedraalcafe just off the Grote Markt and after several bratwurst sandwiches; we were keen to some seafood.  With happy bellies, we had a quick peek at the Christmas markets and then piled in the car for the trek home.

Special thanks to A&A for contributing photos.  Click here to see a full slideshow.  Tot Ziens!

Good Times!

 

 

No more snow!

It’s official.  I have a love-hate relationship with snow.  Growing up in Louisiana, snow was a very rare sight.  We were lucky if we had snow once every 5-7 years.  When we did, the entire city shut down.  Schools were closed and people were encouraged to stay home and off the roads.  But this usually only lasted one day as the temperatures soon turned the snow to water.

NYC was another story.  We were guaranteed to have snowfall every winter. Some winters worse than others.  The snow started out as a beautiful white blanket, but soon became dirty black sludge piled up on the corners so pedestrians could navigate the sidewalks.

While Amsterdam is even further north, heavy snowfall is not typical for The Netherlands.  With the country at sea level, the weather tends to be humid and if the snow does fall, it usually doesn’t stick very long.  Last winter proved to be quite an anomaly as it was the snowiest winter in 30 years” and it looks like this winter might be on the same track.   This past weekend, G and I were going to meet up in London for a quick holiday weekend before heading to the States to visit our families for Christmas.  I was really excited about my first trip to London; however Mother Nature had other plans for me…

 

5:10am – A persistent beeping from my alarm clock warns me to get up or be late.

5:15am – Call to G to make sure he’s awake in Paris to catch the train to London.

6:55am – Out the door (5 minutes early, a miracle mind you) and off to Schiphol Airport.

Note:  Half way to the airport, a mad flurry of snow begins to fall.

7:20am – Baggage checked in for my 8:40 flight to London.  Bag weighs only 10.5kg, another miracle.  KLM staff confirms the flight is on-time.

8:40am – Sitting at the gate with a white blanket outside the window.

9:00am – Boarded and the wait begins.  Wait. Wait. Wait.

10:40am – Plane is finally towed to a de-icing station.

11:05am – Captain’s Update:  “De-icing is finished, but the tarmac is full of snow and we are waiting for it to be cleared.”  Cleared?  For what…does he really think we are taking off?  Just cancel the flight already.

11:30am – Captain’s Update: “We are cleared for take-off; flight attendants, take your seat.”  Ok, so now I’m a teeny bit optimistic.

11:42am – Captain’s Update:  “The wings are frozen and won’t operate properly; we need to go back to the gate so an engineer can fix it.”  Fix the frozen wing?  No thank you…can I deplane now?

12:12pm – Captain’s Update: “Schiphol is starting to close down, but we are still  working to get the wing fixed for take-off.” Whyyyyyy?

12:20pm – Captain’s Update: “I’m sorry, Schiphol has been closed and this flight is now cancelled.  [And to add insult to injury] There is currently no one at the gate, so please remain seated until we are able to deplane.”

1:05pm – Four hours after I boarded, I am finally walking off the plane.  Little did I  know that trying to get home was going to involve more drama than trying to get to London.  The arrival hall was a total circus and I was advised to try to recover my bag tomorrow.

1:15pm – Outside and waiting for the bus as airport personnel advised the trains were delayed or cancelled.

2:00pm – After standing in the freezing temperatures and unending snow fall, the bus finally arrives.  Unfortunately it says “geen deinst” (no service). I turn to look at the cab line which shows 30+ people in line and no cabs in the queue.

2:08pm – In line for a train ticket.

2:15pm – Mad dash down stairs for the 2:19 train.

2:19pm – I slump down in my seat and breathe a small sigh of relief that I’m en route home.  The train from Schiphol to Centraal Station is on average 17 minutes.  Given the weather, I anticipate it could take up to an hour.

2:30pm – Train stops.

2:55pm – Conductor’s Update:  “We have a switch problem and will be delayed indefinitely.”

3:25pm – We haven’t moved.  The snack cart rolls by and I purchase my first meal of the day.

Green tea and cashews...gourmet dining, huh?

4:30pm – Finally begin moving, only to stop again just 500 meters shy of Centraal Station.

5:10pm – Arrive at Central Station, nine minutes shy of a three hour ride.  After ten hours in transit, I anticipate the trams are not running and mentally prepare myself for a 45-minute walk home.  Did I mention that it is now below freezing and my heavy hat, gloves, and scarf are in my checked bag that is somewhere in the chaos of Schiphol’s basement?

5:22pm – I catch a break and board the tram.

5:55pm – Eleven hours later, I’m back home.  I don’t have my luggage, but I do have a sore throat and fever.  Fabulous.

Over the next few hours I cancelled our hotel, worked on a refund for my flight and tried to get an update on my luggage while drinking a cup of Thera-Flu.  G was able to change his flight and leave London, but we were not sure if the plane would actually take off.  After a few hours of delays and a slippery drive in the snow, he made it home just after 1am.

No Fun-in-London for us.  Instead, I spent the weekend eating G’s homemade chicken soup, emptying boxes of tissue  and wondering if my luggage would ever surface from the madness at Schiphol.

Two to Two

[October 09, 2010]

When the score is 2 – 2, it sounds more like a futbol game than a football game.  But in our “house divided”, the Tigers have 2 and the Gators have 2…wins.   Since 2007, G and I have attended the LSU/UF football games together.  Every year it’s been the same friendly smack talk between us during game week.  Followed by the same puzzled looks from fans trying to comprehend how a Tiger and a Gator can still walk out of the stadium post-game holding hands—because clearly one of us had to lose.

2007 was a happy game for me.  We were in Death Valley and LSU pulled out a close win during a fourth quarter littered with controversial calls.  The stadium was easily dominated by Tiger fans, but I was fairly on my own in the visitor section and constantly being “chomped” at by Gators.  Final score, 28 – 24.  Tigers also clenched the BCS championship game at the end of the season.  Geaux Tigers!

2008 was just plain embarrassing.  It was my first visit to The Swamp and I tailgated with an all Gator crowd.  If I closed my eyes, I could have mistaken it for Louisiana.  The smell of boiled crawfish and jambalaya permeated the humid air along with a sprinkling of y’alls and football talk.  Aside from my purple and gold shirt, I managed to “blend” in and everyone was more than friendly.  With a roadie in hand, I trekked to the stadium alongside Gator friends hungry for a win.  And they had a feast!  The score was 17 – 0 at the end of the first quarter.  I showed up to The Swamp, but LSU missed the turnoff from Interstate 10.  Growing up a Saints fan, optimisim is in my blood.  But by the third quarter of this game, I was bored, embarrassed, and ready for a liquid dinner.  At least the loss secured me a warm bed in the loser’s corner as opposed to the driveway at G’s parent’s house. 😉  Final score, 51 – 21*, Gators (*which should’ve been 14, but I think UF was embarrassed for us and gave us a TD).

Crawfish!

No purple & gold around here

In The Swamp

2008

2009 had potential and it was back to Death Valley. Both of us had a lot of friends and family at this game so our entire day was spent tailgate hopping.  Since my brother managed to score tickets for me that year, I was finally seated amongst LSU fans and G had a taste of what my last two years were like.  Well, sort of.  UF was solid, but we were hungry for a win.  Two weeks before the game, UF’s star player, Tim Tebow, suffered a concussion and his playing status was a mystery until game time.  He played and they won.  But the score was easier to digest this time, 13 – 3, Gators.  G had just flown in from Amsterdam so jet lag was abated with a ‘W’ for UF…especially one in Death Valley.

Gator on the grill

Gator & Tiger

Tailgating with family

Tailgating with the opponent

Death Valley - LSU

2009

2010 was back to The Swamp and a Gator gave me the “courage” award for proudly donning my LSU shirt with coordinating purple and gold beads.  After our long flight from Amsterdam, I think we both deserved the fan-that-traveled-the-furthest-award. As with previous years, it was a close one to call in advance.  While LSU was undefeated to date, the wins were close and sometimes lucky.  Florida just lost to Alabama and L’s aren’t what the Gator Nation is accustomed to as of recent years.  Our seats were in a very Gator section and not a single Tiger within earshot.  No one to reach across a few rows to for a quick high-five when TDs were scored.  The lead toggled between the two teams and then it was down to an intense fourth quarter. I’m pretty sure G and I didn’t speak a word to each other during this time.  Not due to bitterness or rivalry, just sheer tension as the clock ticked down, plays were continuously reviewed, and we each quietly hoped the other would lose.  With a final TD in the remaining minute, LSU won 33 – 29.  I was surrounded by unhappy Gators and appropriately kept silent as the colors on my hat, shirt, and beads were loud enough.  Back at the tailgating site, our Gator friends offered congrats and we all enjoyed a beer as we waited for traffic to die.  G’s dad even taped a “Geaux Tigers” sign on the door to greet the divided (and very tired) couple.  I took this as a sign I was allowed to sleep inside.

2010

Now the score is even.  We’ve each experienced both a win and a loss at home and away. We always joke that the loser has to wear the winner’s colors to the next game…but we’ve never reinforced it.  Basically because it just won’t happen.  But if you have an idea for the 2011 game, I’m open to suggestions!

Lew-Easy-An-Uh

Bittersweet feelings overwhelm me as my two week visit in Louisiana has come to and end.  Sad to say good bye to my family.  Sad my visits with friends were brief.  Even sadder there are so many friends I didn’t get a chance to see.  BUT…I’m off to the Florida Keys to meet up with G and excited to see him.  Excited about trying to catch my own lobster this year, not just an assist. And excited about a whole week of fresh seafood eats, mmmmm!

Coming home is nostalgic candy with that unavoidable trek down Memory Lane.  Some flashbacks are icky like licorice, while others are as sweet as pixie sticks.  This trip was full of pixie sticks, family, and special friends…

College Roomies

The Hubbies

NOLA Roomie

NOLA/NYC Friends

Little Man!

Ballet Buddy

Mini Me is all about shin guards, not leotards 😦

Baby Shower for Sorority "lil sis"