My European Vacation-top of the waves observations:

My family and I just returned from a 12 day stay in Europe.  We spent 8 days in Italy and  5 days in Paris.  It was absolutely lovely.  Here are some of my top  of the wave observations, which are really just my personal opinion.  You might feel completely different.

We got back on Sunday which made our trip just two days short of two weeks.  I enjoyed Italy and Paris immensely.  We landed in Venice and stayed there two days then bused over to Florence and stayed there two days.  After that,  it was onto Pisa/Assisi for a brief stop before we made way for Rome where we stayed three days.  Here are my top of the waves observations about each country:
In Venice the canals are so charming.  How refreshing to be somewhere without cars whizzing by.  Instead, boats are the auto of choice and necessity.  Lovely, dreamy and resorty all rolled into one.
Gondola rides: What was once a very romantic thing to do while in Venice, has now turned out to be one of the biggest rip offs in the North of Italy.  It is astronomical to ride one…like 65 euros and up per person.  So what I chose to do instead is stand on the bridges and watch other people (suckers!) float by, a little lighter in their pockets.  Honestly, to see one float  by is sufficient for me.  It’s all so gimmicky.
In my opinion, the junk vendors spoil the beauty of Europe.  The African and Indian sellers are at every well known attraction/monument hawking their cheap, imported crap where they know tourists will be flocking.  It drives me crazy and makes me want to hit them. I will never look at a red rose again with the same level of admiration as I did before I set foot in Venice.
In Italy (and other parts of Europe possibly-I don’t know) the people are very laid back and restaurateurs don’t look at customers the same way the restaurant owners here in the states do.  One evening in Venice, we tried to get a table at a restaurant that clearly had enough tables to accommodate us, but they flat out refused to seat us and discouraged us from even having a hope of getting a table.  They simply didn’t want our business.  I was amazed, and a bit pissed.  I guess we were too fat for their liking or possibly they just didn’t feel like serving us….maybe laziness overcame them.
I love the Italian language.  It sounds so lovely.  My favorite word is “Allora” which simply means “and so” or “therefore”.  Everyone says it…and it sounds so pretty….”Allora.”  Something you say mid sigh when you have nothing else to say.
The leaning Tower of Pisa was breathtaking.  It is this white marble cockeyed tower that is so beautiful and set against the blue skies, it is captivating.
Florence is beautiful….it’s a Medieval little New York City where Vespas and other scooters replace yellow taxi cabs.  Everyone drives a scooter.  I’ve never seen so many in all my life.  The driving is speedy and reckless and I’m sure hospital emergency rooms treat at least a few people per week that come in bloody and flattened with a tire stripe on their forehead.  🙂
The Statue of David is beyond beautiful.  That 17′ tall marble rendition of a young Biblical king brought my big husband to tears.  I turned around and just said to him, “Isn’t David just so beautiful?” and with tears visible in his eyes, he could barely mutter, “Absolutely.”  Lol…Larry brought to tears over Michaelangelo’s masterpiece.  I love it.   Yes, there IS a God…lol.
Kabobs are the Middle Eastern imported Italian junk food version of gyros.  Larry couldn’t get enough of them.  (not me. “Hello, where can I find some Gelato?”)
Bidets.  Bidets are EVERYTHING they are cracked up to be and more.  I figured them out (they’ve always been a bit of an enigma to me) and told all my kids how to use it and after their own experience with one, they reported to me we need to call Dave our plummer and have him install one in our house at once after we get home.  Seriously, they are awesome.  And I DO want one.  🙂
I don’t like Italian coffee.  It’s little 2 oz shots of too hot,  too strong coffee with no milk or sugar.  I searched high and low and rejoiced in the rare times I found a place that served Cafe Americane.  Cappuccino is okay with lots of milk and sugar.  Next to my dog, I missed my coffee.
Speaking of dogs, in Italy and France every good restaurant has one and it is out in the open, seen, slobbering and mingling with the customers.  I kind of like that.
Tuscany has lovely landscapes dotted with wild, red poppies, rose crops and colorful homes painted hues of  watermelon, turquoise and taxi cab yellow among others.
Did you know Italian roosters say “Kee Kee da Kee,” quite different from our American ones that shout, “Cock a Doodle Doo?”  It’s true. 🙂
Italian men are the most beautiful creatures on earth.   Liquid brown eyes and chiseled features, holy moley. “Buongiorno, handsome!”
Gelato is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.  My daughter and I were  addicted and tried as many flavors as we could pack into 3 days in Rome.
I love how the Italians serve water at the table in pretty decanters.  This is something I want to adopt here at home.
Wine is a standard with every meal.  I haven’t been that consistently buzzed on wine in years, if ever in my life.
Art is everywhere in Paris and Italy.  Remember to always look up because some of the best art might be lurking just above your head.
What I didn’t like:
Air conditioning is pretty crappy everywhere in Paris.
No ice.
No refills on coffee unless you pay (in Italy, too)  Guess they don’t know the meaning of ‘coffee clutch.’
What I liked:
The Eiffel tower is actually dark tan (I thought it was grey)  ((Maybe that’s because I have a black and white large canvas photo of it on my wall))
The Paris Metro is kick ass efficient.
Did you know Claude Monet, Impressionist painter of haystacks, cathedrals and lily pads actually painted turkeys?  I saw his turkey painting at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.  Here’s a photo of it.
The city wasn’t any dirtier than any other city I’ve been too….in fact, it might be cleaner.
Some French men make me weak in the knees.  I did see a few that were up to the caliber in good looks as some Italian men I had spotted, our Louvre tour guide was one of them.  You can see him here. Lol
The Pere La Chaise cemetery is an oddly amazingly good time.  My kids LOVED it-got to visit Jim Morrison’s grave, and roam around taking cool pictures of some of the most beautiful tombstones and mausoleums you’d find anywhere.
It’s France, what’s not to love?  C’est Bon!
What lessons I learned on this trip:
Screw fashion-Bring your most comfortable (but preferably, not white) walking gymmies, and forfeit sore feet.  I brought four pairs of  cute, fashionable shoes and they all hurt my feet and left me cursing my idiocy and vanity.  I was aching for my black Nikes.  Oh. So. Bad.
Bring less stuff.  Even though I took the advice from seasoned travelers, and watched all the YouTube videos I could find on packing light for Europe, I still brought too much.  The crappiest thing was I purchased ‘carry on’s’, with every intention of ‘carrying them on’ the plane to avoid lost luggage and the damn bags exceeded the European airlines limits on carry on size and we still had to check our bags.  Fortunately, we all got our luggage there  with us on the way to Europe, but Jeff’s bag was not put on the plane in Paris for the trip back and ended up having an extra two day holiday in the city of love without us.  Lost luggage sucks.
Bring an umbrella and a short trench coat.
 If you get the chance, please do Italy and France.  It’s lovely.

In a New York State of Mind

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been enamored with the very thought of New York City.  I remember when I was in grammer school I always wished I could visit the Big Apple, but knew in my heart there was no way I’d ever get my parents to take me there.  My father had two vacations a year and each was spent visiting both sets of parents, one in Wisconsin and the others in Tennessee.  Besides that, my parents didn’t have a lot of money and would never be able to afford it.  So, for the time being, New York for me was a far away dream.  When I was about 12, I found a tee shirt at a flea market that said, Brooklyn across the front and I bought it because it made me feel connected to have a shirt with a New York name on it.  I loved watching movies shot in New York City just to catch a camera glimpse of a place I had longed to be.  I enjoyed just listening to people who spoke with a native New York accent. My dreams of visiting New York City continued all throughout my marriage and I had hoped to go on my first trip there with my mother in law who once lived there for about three years when my husband was a baby.  Unfortunately she died before we had that chance to travel together.  I remember sitting next to her as she lay in the hospital dying of cancer, telling her with tears in my eyes that we won’t get our chance to take that trip to New York together.  She knew how much it meant to me to go with her and it was just so sad.

Finally, about five years ago I decided I was finally going to go to NYC.  I took my son with me-David was 18 at the time and he enjoyed the big city just as much as I did.   It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be and more.  The City truly made my heart skip a beat.  Although I’m from Chicago, I found something different and really fantastic about New York that I never experienced living in Chicago.  Big Apple was a flavor I had never tasted and once I got a bite, I found it  irresistable.  A lot of my friends don’t understand what I see in it-after all, to them it’s dirty, congested and expensive.  Although I’m very aware of those things, I don’t ‘see’ them.  I am at such a deeper level than that.  A level I can’t even begin to explain.  Since that first trip with Dave, I’ve gone back four more times and each visit has been different, some better than others.    But every time I return home I feel like there is something I missed-something I didn’t absorb from the city that I had been thristing for.  I feel as if I have never been able to suck from the City what I need to satisfy something deep down in my soul.  I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is that makes my heart sing about New York City.  While reading The Artists Way I think I may have found something in that book that describes almost exactly how I feel.

 “Manhattan is where the singers are.  Not to mention Broadway.  I am here because “art” brought me here.  Obedient, I came.  Per capita, Manhattan may have a higher density of artists than anywhere else in America.  In my Upper West Side neighborhood, cellos are as frequent and as ungainly as cows in Iowa.  They are part of the landscape here…..Manhattan teems with dreamers.  All artists dream, and we arrive here carrying those dreams…I’ve looked up into Leonard Bernstein’s ground-floor windows at the Dakota, and gone a little numb each time I pass the arched entryway where John Lennon was shot.  In [my] apartment, I am a scant block from Duke Ellington’s haunts, and there’s a street named after him too.  Manhattan is a town full of ghosts.  Creative power-and powers-course through its vertical canyons.”

I often go back to these words because they give me a sense of comfort.  Since I’m an  artist, I understand all the potential New York has for inspiring me, and how it is juicy with a creative element my soul absolutely craves.  I can feel the creativity that flows through it.  And yet, I have not been satisfied and I continually long to return.  When I explore the island on foot I can feel myself absorb its life force with every step I take,  and at times I can almost compare it to having a religious experience. Silly, I know, but I can’t help myself.

I had such a experience this past weekend when I made a trip uptown to visit the Dakota apartments.  I also wanted to walk across the street to Strawberry Fields in Central Park to see Yoko Ono’s beautiful, but simple IMAGINE memorial to John.  When I walked up the subway stairs and got to the street level there it was-in all it’s magnificent glory the Dakota towered,  hauntingly owning the corner of 72nd and Central Park West.  I can’t completely explain the feelings that pulsed through me.  I was awestruck and in some way jealous of the choice few who get the honor of inhabiting such a historic, lush residence.  I want to live there.  I caught a glimpse of Connie Chung through the large, black entry gate where Lennon was shot, and a few moments later another mysterious elderly resident pulled up in a taxi, paid the driver and hobbled in through the black gate with his wife.  I must be crazy because just being in the shadow of that building left me feeling numb.  I was like a little kid, wishing to just get in and explore the creepy attic and secret places.  I longed to know who lived there and see the beautiful interior.  I imagined living there, having beautiful views of Central Park through all the seasons and having the city there all the time to be my muse.  How lucky some folks are.

What ever it is that New York City has that stirs my soul will continue to draw me back time and time again.  I will never tire of it.  I will always carry it in my heart and like Julia Cameron says, art brings me here.  I too, am obedient.  I arrive each time in  New York City carrying my dreams in my heart, and someday I hope to carry them in my suitcase.   One day I hope to live there.  It’s my next dream.  It will come true.  I can wait patiently, after all, good things come to those who wait.