Friday, September 21, 2012

Tthe End

As this trip is ending, here are some additional thoughts.  Ok, yes, I loved Switzerland, but honestly who can afford to live there?  During one meal we got charged 1 Euro for 1 pat of butter.  Cokes and water routinely cost 5 Euros for a small bottle.  The car train was the only thing that was reasonably priced.

We finished out Switzerland with one night in Luzern (cool town) and a brief stop in Bern to see the bears.  Unfortunately the bears weren't out, but it was a good chance to see the city which is lovely. After leaving Bern we headed to France and spent the night in Chamonix.  We had considered doing the cable car up Mt. Blanc, but it would have cost around $100 and we just didn't want to go that badly.  One funny thing about Chamonix was the hotel.  The bathroom was so small that in order to fit in the toilet, about a third of it took up part of the door opening.  Never saw anything like that before!  Although the hotel in Luzern and again in Chamonix promised WiFi in the room, in both places our rooms were in dead zones.  I had to do an application for work so we ended up taking the laptop to the hotel's business center and I was able to get it done there.

The other big event in Chamonix was Brian breaking out in a horrible rash all over his body.  It stung and itched and generally looked awful.  This morning it had spread so he went down to the pharmacy. They sold him some type of pill, and so, just to double check, he stopped in at a second pharmacy.  They told him that he needed to see a doctor immediately.  Just so happened that there was a doctor right around the corner.  He stopped in and was given an appointment for a little later this morning.  She saw him promptly, diagnosed a contact allergy, cause unknown, and wrote him two prescriptions.  She had very limited English, so it was interesting to watch her try to explain when and how much of each medicine he would take.  She billed us 40 Euros, which we paid directly to her, then she wrote a note in French for us to send to Aetna.  That should be good for a laugh.  At any rate, we got the scripts filled, and went on our merry way back to Italy and to our last hotel right by the airport.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Life is good!

OMG, I love the Swiss! They have toilet seats, car trains, and AAA discounts. Not to be putting down the Italians, but what is with their obsession about having no toilet seats in the restrooms?? And who knew about car trains? Never saw any mention of them in the guidebooks, either. Good thing we stopped at a tourist info booth in Zermatt to ask about the shortest way to Grindelwald. By the way, Zermatt is a picture postcard village at the foot of the Matterhorn. We now have a very detailed Swiss road map (only cost about $20). We could see a shortcut, but on the map it looked like there was no road between two of the small towns. So we stopped to ask about that and found out about the car train. In the first town, you drive your car right onto the train and remain seated in the car. The train takes you through a mountain, pitch dark in the tunnel. About 15 minutes later you drive right off the train and continue on your merry way. It costs 22 Swiss francs. To have gone the long way around would have added several hours to the trip as well as costing a fortune in gas. We have been spending well over $100 a tank for fuel on this trip, so the cost of the train seemed like a real bargain. Plus it was a very cool experience. Yesterday we went up a series of cable cars to the top of the Schilthorn. This is not the highest mountain in the area, but this is the mountain featured in the James Bond movie, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" At the top is a revolving restaurant and views of the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau. We ate lunch, which was about $50. We couldn't help laughing about that and remembering the $50 lunch we had by accident in Liechtenstein two years ago. Yesterday was by far the better value, and best of all, when we bought out tickets for the cable cars, the ticket lady asked if we had AAA. We never would have thought to ask for a AAA discount, but it saved us about $30. And now you know why we love the Swiss. Not to mention the incredible beauty of this country. The most fantastic thing of all yesterday, is that Cindy and Jason called us to relay the awesome news that Jason passed his bar exam.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Catching Up

Haven't posted in a while for a couple of reasons. Usually I'm just too tired, but we did spend a couple of days in a delightful medieval walled village and had no internet access. The town, San Gigiminano, is wonderful, and we had a great hotel. The first morning after we arrived we set out for Pisa -- which was terrific-- and then headed to Firenze. That's were we got into major trouble. We never could figure out where Garmin was taking us, but we also never got close to where we were headed. We never even got to a spot that I could find on the map. Around and around we went with narrow, crowded streets and maniacal drivers, and then the Garmin died. At that point we decided to bag the Duomo and after a lot of trouble we found our way out of town. Without using the Garmin, we made it to Venice easily, got parked and onto the water bus and had no trouble finding the hotel, getting our gondola ride and seeing St. Mark's Square. No adventures to report. Today, we came across the Simplon Pass into Switzerland, and had no trouble finding our way to Tasch. Tomorrow we go to Zermat to look at the Matterhorn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lessons Learned

If nothing else, this trip has vividly demonstrated to us that we aren't spring chickens anymore and just can't keep up the frantic pace we used to do on trips. We were supposed to go to Capri today, but now Brian isn't feeling too great. When he told me this it took absolutely no time for me to say, "yeah, lets skip Capri and do it when we hit Naples on the cruise next year." All I could think about was getting a chance to sleep in, read a book, do the laundry and watch a movie, while lounging around in the hotel room. We also think that this will be our last trip to a foreign country where we rent a car and drive ourselves. That's just not as fun as it used to be, either. So, no funny adventures today and no interesting pictures either. Tomorrow is another day!

Monday, September 10, 2012

out of the frying pan

I now understand why my brother and sister-in-law took a whole week to see Rome. At the time it just didn't make any sense to me, and so, when it was my turn to plan this trip I only allotted 3 days in Rome. What I did not figure in was how tired and sick I was by the time we arrived and so we didn't accomplish anything the first day. The second day I still was feeling bad, but charged ahead to the Vatican. By the time we were finished there, I was completely out of energy and still not keeping food down. After an all too short rest, we went on a 3 hour Segway tour of Rome at night. I thought I would die, but we saw so much that we would have missed otherwise, and Segways are a lot of fun to ride. We finally got something to eat about 10:30 p.m. which was about the first food that I was able to eat in two days. The next day we did the Colosseum and the catacombs and wasted a couple of hours waiting for the bus. We had a very tasty and relaxing dinner at Campo di Fiori, and then took in the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. We did everything that we wanted to do, but it was just too hard to do all of that in two days. This morning we took a bus out to Fuimicino to pick up the rental car. What a nightmare! The whole shebang took about 3 hours, and then to add insult to injury we have no way to charge anything in the car. That shouldn't be a problem since we have been able to charge the laptop, my phone, and my nook in our rooms. We always keep the car charger plugged in when using the Garmin, and there we were with no idea if the Garmin would last long enough to get us to Sorrento. We kept it off as long as possible, but took a wrong turn as we were leaving Naples. That is when we turned it on, in the middle of some city. It was in the midst of telling us how to get out of the town when it totally died. Live by the Garmin, die by the Garmin. It took us forever to find our way just using the Atlas, but when we got to Sorrento we couldn't find the hotel. Finally we stopped at another hotel and they showed us on a town map how to get to where we wanted to go. Driving in Italy is not a lot of fun. Between the stick shift, the maniacs in the cars, the maniacs on scooters, and the giant buses, it was all Brian could do to get us here. That's why we decided to go with the tour options for Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Both will pick us up here and drop us off at the end of the day. That is also why we are going to eat tonight at a restaurant that will pick us up and deliver us back. We honestly thought that getting out of Rome would end the crowds and narrow streets, and the traffic, but we went from the frying pan to the fire today.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Italy for Beginners

Got to Rome this morning, but I was not feeling all to well. Actually lost my breakfast on to the train tracks. Maybe you don't need to know that, however. We took the train into the center city, then stumbled our way around the Termini looking for the hop on hop off tour office. Once we took care of that, we set out for the hotel, which was very easy to find, but by the time we got here, schlepping our luggage, I was so tired that I lay down to "rest my eyes". Two hours later, I came to, and was ready to venture out looking for the catacombs. We were told that there are some near the Circus Maximus, so we blundered our way over there. Of course we couldn't find them, so back we came to the train station where we had started out. At least we got our feet wet on the Metro, and have a general idea what we are supposed to do tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A place called Necessity—or How to break in a new car!



Yesterday, Papaw, Ma, and I took a little trip in Ma’s new Kia. We headed up to Breckinridge to check on the lease and on the way; we decided to swing by the Necessity cemetery to look at the graves of Papaw’s grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles. Although Necessity is just a wide spot in the road, it wasn’t hard to find the cemetery. Ma made short work of the cattle gate at the entrance (you could tell that she has done this a few times before). So we enter and drive up the dirt/gravel road a bit, then we get out and wander around until we had checked out all of the family graves. When we started to leave, I was driving and just pulled forward intending to make a big inverted U shape. And who could see anything wrong with that idea? Unfortunately, and in spite of us being in what is predicted to be a 10 year drought in Texas, we had just gone through a couple of days of heavy rain. See what’s coming? Yep, I got us hopelessly stuck in the mud. We tried everything to get unstuck. Picture all three of us, in all combinations, taking turns trying to push either backwards or forwards and all we succeeded in doing was to jam the car up next to a fence and post. All that did was make it harder to get in or out of the driver’s side. Ma finally started gathering branches and twigs to put in front of the tires—but that didn’t work. She even tried taking the pad out of the trunk area and putting it in front of the tires. But that didn’t work either. Perhaps the only saving grace was that the kind folks in Necessity had built an outhouse right near where we were stuck. The curious thing about it, though, is that the outhouse is a three seater. Now can you just picture three funeral attendees sitting side by side taking care of their business? Begs the question.
In any event, we finally just gave up our fruitless efforts, and called for help. Once again, thank God for cell phones! We reached a tow truck operator in Breckinridge who got to us in less than 30 minutes and hauled us out. We slung mud from the tires for miles! And what a mess of mud there is inside this brand new car. But the carwash will take care of that, and we have new memories of Vaughn adventures. Oh, and one more thing—Papaw and Ma have been tremendous good sports about the whole affair. Much better than the time I nearly destroyed their garage when I rammed into the center support column. But that’s another story.