Ah, this is the time of the year that we can’t wait for winter to shut down and spring to open up and we begin to make vacation plans to somewhere. It’s been one heck of a winter so far with all the snow that we’ve received. And cold too, what’s up with that? (Can you tell that I just read an article on ‘Global Warming’). I’m certainly glad that we had someone with a plow dig us out after each snow storm we had and we’ve had some doozies.
There are many memorable vacations that we have taken and I would like to share the following one with you. This was a chance of a lifetime as my daughter was going to Ireland to study soils. Well she asked if we’d like to join her after her classes were over and we decided ‘why not’ and started making all our travel plans. So, we decided to visit four countries in a three and a half week trip. Let me tell you that is a lot of traveling in a short time.
Well, we figured staying in local bed & breakfasts would be the sensible, if not cheapest lodging other than a hostel which we weren’t keen on so it was B&B’s except for France where we decided on a self-catering apartment which as it turned out to be a pretty good choice.
Anyway our first ever trip to Europe started with a limousine ride to Logan Airport in Boston to head for Dublin, Ireland. It was a red-eye flight that leaves late in the night and gets you to your destination in the early morn‘ (ya gotta say this with an Irish accent). Once you adjusted to the jet lag which hit instantly upon landing there were so many sites to see you don’t know which ones to do first. We opted to see the “Ha Penny Bridge which used to cost a half penny to cross, however it is such a tourist attraction that it is free to cross both ways. We took a double decker bus (yes, we sat in the very top in the front row but it was damp and cold even for the summer. We traveled down a wide street where each door to the residents‘ home were all painted a different color. Of course the proverbial question arose as to why they did this. The answer was simple as the tour guide told a story of when one of the young husbands came home from the local pub after too many pints he wandered into the wrong door and went to bed with someone other than his own wife and as a result the wives had the doors painted different colors so their man would know which house was theirs. Apparently it solved the problem of husbands going into the wrong doors.
We also visited a castle which was real neat. Then we went to the the night club district and visited the coveted Temple Bar (other than visiting your favorite winery, going to a pub in Ireland is one of the best things in the world to do). It seems that any pub you may visit in Ireland there is always a table or booth or a corner of the pub you know that you should not sit at. Well, once you’ve staked out your favorite bar stool a musician will show up and sit where you knew you shouldn’t and then another musician shows, then another…well you get the picture. I got the impression the Irish did not go to the pubs to drink per se, but rather to socialize. And it was wonderful. It seems that everyone was enjoying the moment.
A short plane ride to France yielded a more subdued crowd that didn’t outwardly show the gaiety the Irish were famous for. However, Paris is the home to so many museums, where do I start. The most famous being the Louvre. My biggest thrill was seeing the Mona Lisa and of course the French wine. I got to see the Eiffel Tower both in the day and the night time. Both were exceptional sights to see. One note when you make reservations for a foreign country you’ve never been to is you really do not know what neighborhood you getting yourself into. The taxi driver that took us from the airport to the apartment warned the three ladies with me (my wife, daughter and her classmate) were not to venture out in the evening alone. He did say however that it was okay for me to travel alone. It was the shopping district of Paris. Great for the daytime activities but I guess it gets a bit risque in the evening. I had the pleasure of visiting the same croissant store each day and I was able to speak enough French to order breakfast for everyone and when I reached a certain point in the French language one person would start speaking English. I would like to visit Paris again.
Next was a overnight train ride from Paris to Florence, Italy. Not a good trip and that’s all I’ll say. Florence is a very beautiful city with their open air markets. You do not need a car in Florence as everything is in walking distance. Seeing as I was so close to Pisa I had to visit it. I rented an Alfa Romeo and it was the sweetest car I’ve ever drove. It’s very difficult to get an automatic in Europe so I was thrilled when I got to drive this beautiful car at enormous speeds on the Italian highways. Anyway there were signs all the way from Florence to Pisa stating that the museum was a certain exit. I reached the exit easy enough but there were so many roads that none of them seemed to be the one to the Leaning Tower I so yearned to see. 1 hour and 45 minutes later after still failing to find my destination the Leaning Tower has turned into the Tower of Terror. I was so frustrated (not being able to read Italian street signs) I finally decided to cut my losses and head back home. I turned down this side street and saw a sign directing me back to the highway and what do I see on my left reaching into the afternoon sun? Yeah, the friggin‘ Leaning Tower of Pisa. So I had to stop and take pictures, etc. and do the tourist thing. After fifteen minutes I headed back to the Alfa Romeo to head back to Florence. Go figure, but it took me another 90 minutes to find the highway. The next day we visited Tuscany winding through the hills in a sweet Alfa Romeo. If you’ve seen “Under The Tuscan Sun” you’ll get the picture. The next day we visited Rome. I loved old Rome but not new Rome. New Rome was not a good experience (will discuss in comments section when appropriate).
Next an all day train ride to Interlaken, Switzerland (of which we just made the last train to where we were going) where you can see the most beautiful jade green colored rivers was the beginning of a new tourist adventure. Awesome comes to mind when trying to describe this scene. And yes, we took the cog railroad to the top of the Swiss Alps. A gorgeous site to see although a bit slim on breathable air. In the B&B’s where we stayed the hosts made fresh yogurt each morning with all the fixins’. Only spent two days here and we wish we had more time than this. Another trip perhaps??
Next up was a train ride back to spend the evening in Paris before heading to Dublin where we headed for the Ring of Kerry to explore the Irish countryside. When you decide to visit Ireland make sure you visit Doolin, County Clare and stop in the pub for a pint. Oh, and a must see are the Cliffs of Moher, preferably before you go in for that pint of beer.
No matter what kind of vacation you’re inclined to embark on, make sure you make the most of it and enjoy the simpler things in life, like laughter – it does wonders for the soul.
Here are a couple of wines for you to take on vacation:
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Ethos Columbia Valley Reserve Merlot. Blackberry, cassis, and oaky aromas roused the senses to precede boysenberry, plum, and raisin flavors. This wine ended with a tart cherry finish. $32.00, 90 rating. We paired this with roast turkey, rosemary baked potatoes, and leftover vegetables.
Wrongo Dongo 2009 Monastrell. This Spanish wine opened with red cherry cough drop aroma with a hint of tobacco and earthy notes. Cherry, blueberry, and spice flavors led into a surprisingly minty mocha finish was very pleasing. $7.99, 85 rating. We paired this with linguine with meatballs and Italian sausage.
Clean Slate 2009 Riesling. This German wine opens with a peach aroma with a hint of spice on the nose. The palate experiences the same peach flavor but with a hint of lime leading into a silky smooth mineral finish. $9.99, 86 rating. Serve this with spicy Pad Thai or with appetizers like shrimp cocktail, stuffed clams, or oysters on the half shell.
Here’s to good wine, good food, and good friends…