August and I visited the island of Sao Miguel while we were stationed on Terceira, one of the other islands in the archipelago. We visited almost every place on the hyperlinked website while we were there (and have the pics to prove it…they look frighteningly familiar *g*). Here’s how it played out…
An American nurse flew to the base every month from Sao Miguel to give us nursing training…she’d met and fallen in love with a Portuguese man while practicing in Boston, and when he asked her to come live with him, she ditched the states. Soooo, when we asked her about a good hotel to stay in, she insisted that we come stay with them. The initial plan was to just stay one night and then find a hotel, because we didn’t want to impose. When Joao, our host, met us at the airport, he whisked us away to his “apartment”…which was basically the entire 17th floor of the tallest building on the island (18 floors…you can see it on the website…third picture down under Ponta Delgada). Yeah. Apparently we’d befriended one of the island’s elite. Turns out his family basically owned the appliances industry within the Azores, and was heavily involved in geothermal power, which is a huge thing there (since they’re basically sitting on inactive volcanoes). So he shows us our “room”, which is pretty much a damned apartment…
Since we’re not fools, when he offered the use of it for the week, we jumped on it. Partly because the hotels there were almost as pricey as Rome (think $180/nigh), but also because he was truly a great guy who delighted in showing us “his” island. We spent the first day kind of getting our bearings, wandering around the waterfront, checking out the fort, that kind of thing. Then Joao hooked us up with a driver. It cost us $100/day, but that’s cheap considering how much rentals cost there, and this guy knew exactly where to go and what to see. We hung out with him for two days and had a blast, cruising the entire island. We had lunch cooked in volcanic vents, checked out a pineapple factory, visited Sete Ciudad, a stronghold that successfully held against pirates, and so many other places!
Because Joao took such great pride in his island, he was instrumental in us seeing more than traditional tourists would… we repaid him by fighting over the dinner check every night *g*! I mean, c’mon, we’re not paying squat for room and board, let us do that much, at least! One particularly fabulous dinner was a multiple course deal… all I remember is that we ate for what seemed like hours, but were never overly stuffed, got to eat prawns the size of lobsters (I’m NOT shitting you) the four of us went through three bottles of GOOD wine, after dinner drinks, coffee and dessert, and when the tab came…are you ready??? $120. For. All. Four. Of. Us.
It was with real regret that we left Joao and Ponta Delgada… I keep telling August that one day we’ll go back… I’d love to see Joao again, because even though we thanked him profusely and kept in touch for a few years, he was the bestest host in the whole world and I’d love to tell him that again!
So in my previous post you got the gist of why Rome just wasn’t for us. Today I’m going to talk about how we returned to Germany.
We caught a train that morning, and it was all good…got into Venice just as night was falling, and I adore Venice, so we got some grub, wandered the streets for a bit, and then boarded the night train north. Now keep in mind, this whole experience was the first time I’d ever ridden the rails (and since the US doesn’t use rail travel as extensively, it’s been the last). We couldn’t get a sleeper car, so instead just crammed ourselves into our seats and tried to crash. I say “tried” because we were in a section that had a group of disaffected American kids. By kids I mean in their late teens, early twenties, and if you’ve ever seen Beverly Hills 90210 you’ll know what I mean. These wanks talked the whole friggin’ night, and it was obvious they were making a serious attempt to impress someone (who the hell knows who). They veered from existentialism to getting back home to the trust fund/internship in Daddy’s firm. Now I know I was a bit of a piker when I was young (who wasn’t), but I just wanted to bang their heads together. It didn’t help that I was still not feeling so hot. We finally pulled into the Innsbruck train station at something like 5 a.m., and I was never so glad to see the back of someone’s ass.
Now, keep in mind we’ve been traveling for something like twenty hours at this point, we’re dog tired, and I’ve begun to get sicker…like coughing up a lung sick. It’s November in the freakin’ Alps, and the next train north doesn’t leave until 7 a.m.
The Innsbruck train station, which had provided me with such entertainment earlier in our trip, is quite pretty in the “working” hours. Not so much in the early morning. The underground corridor where you walk from the actual rails to the staion itself, was dank, cold and smelled like wet concrete and urine. Yum! NOT!
We hunkered down in the station itself at first, but there was just a weird feel to it…like we were just waiting to be victims. It was obviously a place to crash at night for the homeless, which I have no problem with, but there were also people just hanging out, and that’s what gave us the heebie jeebies. I couldn’t tell if they were dealing (and I’m not talking about a bit of pot changing hands, this had a whole icky heroin exchange feel) or waiting to roll someone. After about half an hour of being on hyper-alert (which sucks when you’ve been half-awake all freakin’ night), we decided to just wait next to our departure train because there was a guard down there. So we trouped back through the corridor (blech) and settled in on a totally uncomfortable bench in the freakin’ freezing fog.
Poor August was having a stroke because I was getting progressively sicker, and there wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it but wait. The conductor finally took pity on us and let us load a few minutes early, since we were the only people on the platform, and damn, it was warm! LOL.
The train took off right at 7, and we slept most of the way to Germany, only waking up when we hit the checkpoint at the border. At that point, we were just happy to be heading north! We finally debarked in Garmisch, got a room at a GREAT hotel, and settled in for a few days to recoup.
While our trip to Europe was fabulous, we both decided we would have been better off if we’d never headed further south than Venice!
We had two very interesting and diverse experiences in Innsbruck…I’ll hit them as they happened (the return trip next week)…
So we’re on our way to Venice from Germany, and pull into the Innsbruck train station in the early afternoon. It’s a very pretty station with inlaid floors, lots of open space and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on to a very quaint, old world street. August went to go purchase our tickets to continue into Italy, and I hunkered down with our nine million bags (okay, there weren’t that many, but by then it sure seemed like it!). So I’m standing there amidst our suitcases and backpacks, chilling and enjoying the beautiful day, when I happen to spy a duffel bag that is clearly not ours, sitting at the edge of our pile. Now keep in mind this was back in ’95, and we’d been briefed extensively on terrorism and such before we departed the Azores. Obviously this wasn’t the norm, and here I am, no real idea where August is, stuck in the middle of a train station with a decision to make.
I looked around, and at the street entrance are four Austrian cops, and honey, lemme tell you, they’re dressed for BEAR. Full riot gear, Uzis and German Shepherds the size of small ponies. After going through the checkpoint from Germany to Austria, I knew this was the norm for them rather than the exception, so it didn’t worry overmuch. Plus, with this strange bag sitting at my feet, it was kinda reassuring.
So I decide that I’ll give it two minutes, and then I’ll move all of our crap over by the doors. Those two minutes pass, and I do what I’d planned, making several trips until all of our stuff is piled on the inside of the doors, and leaving this duffel sitting all by it’s lonesome in the middle of the terminal. Then I looked at my watch and thought…two more minutes and I’m moving everything outside and telling the cops…
About a minute and a half goes by and I’m prepping to yank everything and get out of blast range *g*, when a kid comes up and grabs the duffel, opens it and pokes around inside. From where I’m standing I can see that it’s obviously filled with clothes and crap, so all of my terrorist fears were for naught. I obviously looked like a safe American tourist, and he figured he’d unload his bag with me while he bought his ticket. Damned kid!! Scared the living crap out of me!
Nowadays I wouldn’t have even waited the coupla minutes…I would’ve gone straight to the cops, but that was before Khobar Towers, so even though we’d been warned, it struck more of a cautious note, rather than the kind of “oh shit” fear I would’ve felt in this day and age. Ah, innocence!! Anyway, after that our trip to Venice was unremarkable (except for the ticket agent basically announcing to everyone that August was military as he tried to buy his ticket…another no-no), but it was definitely a topic of conversation that night as we had “real” Italian pizza and a bottle of wine!!
Next week…our night and day in Hell aboard the Rome-Innsbruck-Venice-Germany train…
So if you read my last post, you know that we arrived in Rome pleasantly buzzed and ready to see the sights.
We got off the train and decided to do the same thing we had in Venice…troll the train station for hoteliers trying to get rid of the last of their rooms. We finally settled on a hotel set in between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps because they told us we could stay for several days AND they had a laundry service (at this point, something we desperately needed). Then we ventured out of the train station…and into the CRAZIEST set of driver’s I’ve ever seen in my life.
There are NO traffic lanes in Rome. Sure, there are lines painted on the street, but no on actually uses them as a guide. It’s freakin’ insanity of the highest order. I think I counted nine separate “rows” of traffic as I vised onto the oh-shit handle in the taxi…on a street that was only supposed to accomodate four. Think I aged about 10 years on that day, and August did too.
So we reach our hotel and head down to get a quick bite at the trattoria on the street level, then go back upstairs to crash so we’ll be well-rested for our explorations in the morning. Roman rooms are VERY different than Venetian ones. In Venice we had plenty of room to move around, position our stuff…that sort of thing. Not so much in Rome. There was about three feet of open space around the perimiter of the bed, an all-in-one bathroom (you can shower, shit and shave without ever moving a muscle), and a closet, which in addition to being a clothes repository, was also where our 13″ television was housed. Seriously. August and I are big people (he’s 6’3″ and I’m 6′), so it was a bit entertaining shoehorning into everything, but hey, we’re in ROME…let’s have a great time.
The next day I woke up feeling like utter crap (too many climate changes, I think), so August went downstairs to drop off our cleaning and grab some breakfast. Small problem…they wouldn’t take our clothes. And why???? Because they were freakin’ evicting us that morning. I shit you not. When we protested that we’d been promised a minimum of two nights, the dude just shrugged his shoulders and basically told us to get out. When August asked (very politely, I might add, given the circumstances) if there was another hotel they could recommend, we got the “what do we look like, a travel agency?” attitude. (Keep in mind we’d just shelled out well over $200 for about 8 hours of using the 80 square foot room.) At that point, I was sick, and both of us were thoroughly disgusted. We decided then and there that we were going back to Germany…screw Italy. So we packed up our stuff (dirty clothes and all) and called a cab.
I’m sad to say that all we really got to see of Rome was from the back of a taxi. At some point, I’d love to go back and see some of what we missed…and maybe do it with a tour company!
Next week, our experiences in Innsbruck (both on the way to Italy and our return)
Swerving abruptly back to my Euro-themed Freaky Location Friday *g*, today I wanted to talk about our trip from Venice to Rome…
So we hopped on the train in the mid morning and sat in the very back, in one of those sets of seats that face the person in the very last row. The couple who sat with us was so obviously American it made me smile. The guy is wearing a 49ers sweater and a Big Dog baseball cap. After we got rolling we did the usual blah blah conversation (especially since they had to first determine we were American…remember, we can easily pass for German or Swedes), and quickly discovered they were from the San Francisco Bay Area (go figure, with the Niners sweatshirt *g*). She worked for DHL & he was a housepainter…and they were in
Italy on vacation. But how they got there is sooo interesting!
See, it’s like this…both of them were diehard Giants fans, and had season tickets for seats right behind home plate. Because those are choice seats, they got to know the folks around them as the years passed. So in 1996, one of these baseball friends is celebrating his 50th birthday, and decides to rent a villa in Tuscany for a month, and anyone who can make their way to Italy can enjoy it, and all of the cool stuff associated with it for free. Did I mention said birthday boy was a stockbroker?? LOL. Anyway, the wife, working for DHL, gets space available tickets, so they camped out in San Francisco International and hopped a flight to Rome, then made their way to Tuscany via the train, had a fabulous week, and were heading back home when we bumped into them.
We enjoyed multiple cold malted beverages over the course of the five or six hour trip, which were brought to us by too-cute-to-live Italian porters who carried the beer around in galvanized buckets filled with ice. By the time we hit Rome, we were semi-toasted *g*, and more than ready to book our hotel room.
Sooo, Joe Morgan (I’m sorry, I don’t remember your wife’s name), if you’re out there, give me a shout! LOL.
Next week, our time in Rome…
So I’ve already said that I’ve adopted Oklahoma as my home state. You might ask if this is totally insane, coming from a chickadee who was born and raised in California. In a word…NO! Allow me a moment to explain…
The town I grew up in(Mariposa, CA) was the kind of place where you said “howdy” on the street (at least 30-ish years ago). Where my graduating class was 106. Yeah, that’s right, a senior class with only 106 grads. So you’re getting the small town flavor, right?
So after I graduated, I bopped around a bit, and ended up in Yosemite for almost 5 years, doing this and that (and learning tons about myself in the process), before I met my hubby. Then all bets were off…we moved to Vacaville, CA, pop of 76,000 (at that time, now I’m sure it’s close to 100K, if not significantly more). DEFINITELY not small town. Then we were stationed in the Portuguese Azores (heaven on earth, if you can stand wind and rain for 6 months of the year). So we finish up our tour in the Azores, and pick Enid, Oklahoma for our next base. Who knew it’d be the last one?
See, it’s like this…people say “howdy” here, even though we’ve got a population of over 50,000. People smile at you and MEAN it. You can’t beat that with a stick.
Other great reasons to love Oklahoma? We bought a 1500 sq foot ranch for $55K. Yeah, that’s right. Now, granted, that was 10 years ago, but still. Then, we started incorporating ourselves into the community and found out it was a pretty damned nice place to live! There’s almost NO crime (mostly stupid shits blowing themselves up in their meth houses…but that’s stopped over the last few years wit the new Sudafed restrictions)…I’ll post a link for you to laugh over at the end of this post.
As August neared the end of his career in the Air Force, we had to sit down and think about what we wanted…did we want to move back to California, and try to find a place to live, jobs, etc…or did we want to stay in the place that calls itself…are you ready for this…Enid America. I’m not shitting you.
In all of my years associated with the military, I’ve NEVER seen a community so buy into it’s base. In fact, I’m certain that the community support (hell, it was downright coersion on Capitol Hill) is the BIG reason we didn’t hit the BRAC list last round.
Enid’s not not flashy, by any means. We’ve got one big high school in the town proper (and we live and die by football season), the ubiquitous “strip” where you can get flash-in-the-pan fast food (i.e., Chili’s, Applebees, etc) and a pretty damn decent selection of “local” food that includes a no-kidding Japanese restaurant (trust me, coming from CA, I’m a sushi connoisseur, and this stuff is fresh and good!), some excellent Mexican spots…basically the works. And since August and I are major foodies, that’s a good thing. Granted, you’re not gonna get the major spread you do in significant metro areas, but it’s still damn good eats.
Lets see, what else…every year, the city fathers put on two fireworks shows…the first on the 4th of July…it’s kinda cool because we can see the whole gig from our back yard, so margarita consumption is NOT limited by driving considerations *g*. Tho we did stop lighting our totally illegal fireworks after a visit from Officer Friendly a few years back!
The other fireworks extravaganza is on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and is called Enid Lights up the Plains. Basically it’s a chance for everone to converge on the town square (yup, a no-kidding, totally functional town square), visit with Santa, buy shit they don’t really need, and kick off the Christmas season.
As an aside, Good Morning America and Money Magazine rated Enid as one of the top 5 places to live in American last year, which was totally cool…until I realized it was going to make land that much harder to buy…sigh.
See, the dream is this…we’re going to find a 2-5 acre spread and build our dream house, then rent our current house out to base folks (and no, there’s no discrimination going on here…but with military folks, if they screw up the place, or miss their rent, I just walk over to housing and bitch, and voila, I have my money!).
Okay, so I’ve sung the praises of my adopted hometown a ton…here’s the link I promised. This was the “big” news for the month. http://www.enidnews.com/localnews/local_story_080004413.html
It basically boils down to this…a massive ladder truck (fire) drove over a pretty-damned-busy bridge on it’s way back from a call, a exceeded the weight limit…and collapsed the bridge. Folks are all up in arms about it. God, I love this town…not a murder to be seen…
Yes, I actually had to go here to get the spelling right *g*. Okay, visiting Garmisch is a little backward in how our trip to Europe went (we landed at Ramstein Air Base, went to Garmisch and THEN to Venice, but since it was second on my “oh-shit, that’s cool” list, live with it! LOL).
Anyway, it’s probly best to describe the trip as it went. We woke up to the sound of Army drill marching (we were at Landstuhl, which was *really* Army at the time), bright and early. Since, in our marriage, I’ve never heard such a thing (the AF doesn’t march *g*), it was actually kinda cool. Soooo, we gathered up all of our shit (minus one 35mm camera…sigh), and made our way to the train station via a taxi.
Let me say this right up front, for anyone wondering…German trains really *are* on time…like within 30 seconds of their scheduled arrival/departure. So we’re standing on the platform at 0730, too stupid to look tired, when a whole freakin’ platoon rolls up, just out of the field.
Oh, I forgot to mention it was the last weekend in October, hence the last true drinking holiday of Oktoberfest. Hence, the 99 gazillion Army dudes heading south for some serious imbibing…
So anyway, we’re standing on the platform, stupidly chipper and not having a clue as to what to do, when the dudes roll in…and promptly offer us a Budweiser (ever-after known as an Aluminum Sandwich, at least in my brain). We politely decline and wait for our southbound train.
These dudes board the “party train”, which is headed straight to Munich…at 0730, people are already faced, hanging out of the windows, hooting and hollering. (And as much as I’m an alkie in training…holy crap!)
Our train, luckily, was semi-sedate (tho anything heading south was up for grabs *g*). We cruised through some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen (and keep in mind that I spend 5 freakin’ years in Yosemite!!!). All in all, it was a scary-long ride for folks new to the German train system concept, but at the end of the day, we ended up in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Just so you know, Garmisch is one of those military resorts that no-one outside the DoD seems to know about…basically it’s scary-cheap, but you need to book waaaaay in advance. Since this was our honeymoon (after 5 years of marriage), and we actually had disposable income, we went on the fly. Our original plan was to stay with some folks who were also on vacation, but alas, it didn’t work out.
We ended up staying in a European hotel chain called the Queen’s Mark. We were totally shocked at the room rate ($90/night for a KICK-ASS suite) and so booked the room for two more nights. We discovered the disparity the next morning *g*.
We learned, after trial and error, that rooms in Germany are cheap but the food is hideously expensive. How expensive, you may ask? Try $38 for a freakin’ breakfast buffet!!! Yeah, that’s PER PERSON. Granted, you get a yard of beer with it, but German lager at 1000 in the AM is excessive for even me *g*.
So we had the traditional “American” breakfast (eggs, pork [brats] and some toast…which I’m SURE the locals were chortling over quite mischievously). Not a lot for $76 *g*. We justified the breakfast sticker-shock with the fact that the hotel we were staying in would have probably gone for at least $150 a night in the States.
Anyway, we left the hotel and headed for a gondola that takes you up to the highest peaks in the region. Keep in mind that we weren’t all that far from the Alps, and you get an idea. At the top of the Mountain (and yes, I *meant* to capitalize that…it’s at the top of the damned world!), we got to check out the gift shop and such, eat and just kinda wander around. Got some totally awesome video, watched the other tourons being fools, and then headed down the mountain again.
Since Garmisch is in the southern part of Germany (right next to the Austrian border), the majority of the serious Oktoberfesters stayed in Munich, so it was quiet in Garmisch. That didn’t stop us from making friends with a dude in the bar that night, who, coincidentally, happened to have some shi-shi position with the Carolina Panthers. Of course, August was in seventh heaven, finding an American football fan, and we got the requisite drunken, “if you ever want to go to a game, call me…” statement. And of course, we never followed up.
The next day we shelled out our $75+ for breakfast (and I have to say, it’s just weird to me to see a ten or eleven year old tossing down beer with breakfast…not that I’m a prude, by any means…it’s just against how Americans have been raised, y’know?) and then headed out onto the town.
We picked up some awesome freakin’ souveniers (including some Christmas ornaments that survived our move from the Azores unscathed)…but perhaps the funniest part was when we had German tourists ask us for directions. Yeah, we actually look that Germanic. With a name like Schaefer, go figure.
We wound up our stay in Germany with an AWESOME dinner, and readied ourselves to hit the train the next day and head into Innsbruck…
To bring you up to date on my last Freakly Location Friday post, visit here .
So after touring the Murano glass factory, the owner of the factory let us use his private boat to go back to the city center. The driver, understanding that he was dealing with tourists *g*, told us we absolutely HAD to go to St Mark’s Square…so we did! You’ve seen it on a gazillion things from Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday to the myriad DeBeers’ diamond commercials. Trust me, in real life, it’s even better! The famous pigeons are there in all their pooping glory *g*, with kids running amok through them, setting them to wing. (Geesh, sounded kinda literary there, didn’t I?) August and I had coffee at a quaint little trattoria, then wandered the shops that surround the entire square (for those of you who have been to Venice in Las Vegas, think the shopping area, but SOOOO much better).
And even tho I’m a girl who’s not big on diamonds and such, the myriad of sparkly things in the windows certainly caught my eyes. And for August…the eye candy was the Venetian cops. Picture absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, raven-haired, full-bodied women in form fitting jumpsuits, armed with Uzis and leading freakin’ HUGE German Shepherds. Yeah, to say he was happy is a bit of an understatement *g*. And because I’m pretty damned secure in my marriage, I just gave him that condescending “wife” smile and watched him ogle. After all, when’s he gonna see it again? LOL.
So we wandered around the maze-like streets leading back to our hotel, and he obligingly “let” me *g* ogle my own eye candy (Italian shoes) for a good long bit before we arrived back at the digs. We got all gussied up, and then went for dinner at a restaurant right at the base of the Rialto Bridge. Talk about a romantic scene right out of a movie!! THEN we went for a ride in a gondola!! Our gondolier was just awesome, and as his last fare of the evening, I KNOW he trolled around for longer than he had to, because we were out and about at least an hour, peering at all of the cool old buildings (including Casanova’s pad), before heading back. And the part where I know he was absolutely the coolest guy on earth? We invited him for a drink at the coffee shop right by where they dock, and when August (who was decently into his cups by then) left our bankroll on the counter (yes, I know…NEVER let a dude have the moola…what was I thinking?), our dude brought it AND our drinks to the table. I mean, seriously, he could have disappeared out the back door with about $200 in lire and we would have been the stupid Americanos left looking like idiots. To say that his behavior and total honesty was the cherry on top of an absolutely FABUOLOUS day is a bit of an understatement!
As an aside, I was watching something on the Discovery International channel last week and was totally amazed to learn that gondoliers have to “test” before they can become sanctioned gondoliers…it takes a lot of time (the dude they were profiling studied for three years before he was accepted). I guess, in retrospect, it totally makes sense! Okay, next week…our “interesting” train ride from Ramstein Air Base (Germany) to Venice!
Freaky Location Friday
Venice, Italy (sublocation, Murano) (http://www.vacationidea.com/venice/gallery/venice_train_station_Gallery1.html)
I’m going international again today. August and I did a semi-whirlwind swing (three weeks) through central Europe when we were stationed in the
Azores, so I think I’ll be writing about the cities we visited. This trip was basically our honeymoon (even tho we’d already been married for over five years by then), and because there’s basically NOWHERE to spend your money in the
Azores, we did it up right. Sooo, to start with, we have the absolutely GLORIOUS city of
Venice, Italy, specifically, the Murano glass blowing factory. My dad, who worked for 20th Century Fox back in the 80s, visited there when he was working The Love Boat, said
Venice was dirty and gross. By the time we visited in ’96, the city had undergone a major revitalization. The canals were clean (well, as clean as canals can be *g*) and I was thoroughly impressed with the city as a whole as we stepped out of the train station, especially by the first sight to greet you as you leave the building, a basilica that looked freakin’ COOL in the setting sun.
We were fortunate enough to hook up with a guy trying to hawk his last hotel room for the night. The price was reasonable (for
Italy, at $175 per night), but was a family room (sleeping 8). By then we were exhausted and just wanted a bed *g*, so followed him to the hotel, about ¼ mile off the
Grand Canal. We woke up the next morning and ventured downstairs for the free continental breakfast, and lo and behold, the same dude is behind the counter. Turns out he’s the owner, and was thrilled to have two young Americans staying for several days. He offered to move us into a standard room while we were out and about (same price) and then asked what we had planned for our first day in
Venice. When we kinda shrugged, he asked if we’d be interested in touring a blown glass factory on Murano. Um, HELL YES! So we got to take his private boat over to the island at a whopping cost of 4,000 lire/person (a little over $2.50/person round trip…holy CRAP), and then had a personal tour of a family-run factory, which of course led us into their showroom, where we promptly plunked down $135 for a gorgeous ice bucket and set of six shot glasses (which we STILL own, thank you very much). Of course, the stuff that I liked best was the clear, not covered in gold stuff…which was more expensive…go figure. This was a very in depth experience…we’re not talking about ten minutes in the factory, then come on in and spend your money…nope, we were there for at least three hours, maybe longer, and it was fascinating! Okay, that’s it for today, more on our trip next week!