Cruising the Danube

It’s not about the destination- it’s about the journey.

Travel Quote- Road Trip America

 

Our journey took us on a cruise on the Danube River, through the countries of Hungary, Austria, and Germany.  Like life itself, it had its ups and downs.

On the up side, our long ship was modern, sleek, and classy, the service impeccable, and the food and drink, delicious. What is it about European bread? The croissants, so buttery and flakey, and the wine, so light and fragrant?

On the down side, Europe was in the throes of a massive heat wave. Temperatures soared into the 90’s everyday. Thank God I packed some shorts. River levels were so low that we had to switch vessels halfway through the trip.

But we made the most of what was merely an inconvenience. At each stop along the river, we had signed on for an excursion. In each case, we were treated with more than just the stunning scenery.

A young Hungarian guide shared the history of his unfortunate country: invaded by the Romans, the Huns, the Goths, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Nazis, and the Communists. He humorously questioned, who will invade next? The Americans? If so, at least we were bringing money!

The charming guide at Gottweig Abbey in Austria extolled the beauty and peace of the place. Monks who produce such excellent wine can’t be all bad.

The tour guide in Saltzburg, Austria, greeted us in lederhosen despite the heat. This disgruntled gentleman waxed on about Mozart but barely touched on the filming of The Sound of Music, which was one of the main reasons we had taken the tour. Apparently, many Austrians were not fans of the film, claiming that Hollywood had messed with the actual events of the von Trapp family.

At lunch, however, we were entertained by authentically costumed singers who performed every classic in the film from “My Favorite Things” to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”  At one point, they had us all singing “Edelweiss.”

The delightful town of Regensburg, Germany, was luckily spared of bombing during World War II and managed to maintain its Medieval charm. From massive cathedrals to window boxes to gelato on the street corners, we were even fortunate to catch a lovely bride and groom on the way to their wedding at the town hall.

Present day Nuremberg is noted for its colorful Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarkt,

but a tour through the city also took us past the somber sites of Hitler’s Nazi rallies.

The trip also featured some down time. One day, while relaxing on the ship deck, I overheard a couple talking with a familiar accent. “If you don’t mind my asking, are you guys from Wisconsin?”

They were! I explained that my Dad was from the Badger state, and my childhood had featured biyearly visits to relatives there. We made fast friends with fun-loving Diane and Greg, and enjoyed getting to know them. I have a fond memory of one glorious afternoon, chatting and sipping cocktails with them on the deck, watching castles along the Wachau Valley glide by.

Cruising the Danube was quite an experience. Yet, it wasn’t so much about the destinations, but the journey. It’s the places you see, but more than that, it’s the people you meet along the way.

 

 

 

 

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Cornflower Memories

It was the long ago 1950’s and ’60’s. I was just a kid. It was summer, time for our biannual road trip.

I’d be so excited about the vacation that my parents wouldn’t tell me we were going until that morning. Then, it was load up the old brown Studebaker and head out for the long trek halfway across the nation from our sleepy little berg of Denville, New Jersey, to my Dad’s hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

The car seemed to be held together with a wing and a prayer. Of course, if it were to break down, my Dad could likely repair it.

Out on the Pennsylvania turnpike we’d lumber. If we made it to the Somerset, Pennsylvania, exit the first night, we were doing well.

My brother, Joe, and I sat in the back seat, sans seatbelts, as far away from each other as possible, to avoid the inevitable squabbles. My face pressed against the warm car window, lulled by the motor, my Dad’s cigarette smoke filling the air, I looked out at miles and miles of blue cornflowers.

Oh, those family road trips! During the day, we often stopped for lunch at roadside picnic groves. In the days before McDonald’s became ubiquitous, it was a sensible and cheap option for a family meal. My Mom would have picked up some cold cuts and bread for a quick bologna sandwich, or maybe we’d get fancy and grill some hot dogs on the charcoal grill. Sitting at the wooden picnic table, we’d often be visited by neighboring squirrels, rabbits, and birds, hoping for a hand out.

At night, we never made motel reservations ahead of time. Instead, we often drove until 10 pm, searching for just the right, inexpensive place. The big thrill was finding a motel with a heated pool. My brother and I could hardly wait to jump in and cool off from the day’s travels.

The route through the flat farmlands of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois was often monotonous, so sometimes we varied the course. One year, Dad chose the Northern route, which took us to the raging waters of Niagara Falls; in a southern swing, we visited the vast expanses of Monmouth Cave in Kentucky.

Whichever the route, all roads led to our grandparent’s farm in the bucolic Wisconsin countryside. Grandma Clara, quiet and kind, greeted us. Grandpa Ernie squeezed my chubby cheeks.  The little grey clapboard house had a steep staircase and a tiny kitchen where my grandmother produced the most delicious and aromatic bread and pies. Talk about aromatic, the outhouse out back, in the years before indoor plumbing, was a singular experience.  Watch out for splinters on the toilet seat!  The day might include helping Grandma collect eggs, still warm, from the hen house, or trudging through the corn rows, hoping not to get lost.

While in Wisconsin, we visited a passel of aunts, uncles, and cousins, from cheery Aunt Betty and Uncle Jerry, to talkative Aunt Harriet and Uncle Glenn, to shy Aunt Nancy and Uncle Elly. Reticent at first, we cousins soon ran wild, happy to see each other after two years.

The grandparents, aunts, and uncles are gone, but I am still in contact with some of those cousins through the magic of Facebook.

The years have passed, but the memories live on.

Let’s Party Like It’s 2031

I recently attended the pre-school graduation of my little grandson.

The auditorium was quiet, as parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends sat in anticipation of seeing their precious five year-olds. Then, to the piped-in strains of “Pomp and Circumstance”, the boys and girls filed in, dressed in white gowns and yellow mortarboards. Their expressions bespoke their personalities: some somber, some happy, some silly, making faces ( like my grandson!) After a few words by their teacher, they were handed their diplomas, then performed a little song.

In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” The class of 2031.

2031!! What will our world look like, thirteen years in the future?

For one thing, the population will be approaching 9 billion. Less and less arable land due to water shortages and rising temperatures caused by climate change will result in fewer livestock. We all may be eating less meat.  And how about the use of a 3D printer to process hyper individualized meals? Doesn’t sound too appetizing!

In health news, drugs and treatments may be tailored to your unique DNA, and memory erasure could cure all mental disorders.

By 2031, 40% of our travels may be in driverless cars, and 4.5 packages a week delivered by flying drones.

In crime prevention, there will be an explosion in the use of advanced CCTV cameras in public places. Awareness that we are under constant surveillance could deter a large number of incidents from happening in the first place. Big brother is watching you?!

Hopefully, this prediction will come to pass: A generational shift against guns will result in stricter gun sales and ownership laws. One could only pray that gun violence will be a thing of the past.

What are the chances that some of these predictions may actually happen? It may not be so far-fetched!

Back in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” opened to amazement, incredulity, and not a little confusion. Yet, the creators foresaw the invention of laptops, smart phones, iPads, Skype, space stations, and a computer named HAL- a prototype Siri?

Who knows what the future will bring?

So, congratulations to all the graduates out there- and especially to my grandson’s class of 2031. May those little girls and boys grow up to be the leaders of a much better, happier world.

 

PT Trivia

Who was the legendary Benedictine monk who invented champagne?

Where would you find the Sea of Tranquility?

Where would you find the world’s most ancient forest?

Answers to follow….

Trivia! An increasingly popular diversion in our hectic world. At least 1.6 million people are addicted to something called HQ Trivia.  Whether played on the internet for the possibility of winning big bucks, or just for fun in a work setting, trivia playing is all the rage.

There is a silver lining to everything in life, and in my case, it is meeting the fun young people in the physical therapy establishment where I have been receiving PT for my broken wrist over the last few months.  They are a great group of professionals, and guess what?  They are trivia addicts.

There’s Ethan, a gentle giant ( seriously, he’s 6 feet 5); Ally, a Weight Watcher’s expert;

and Judy, who’s counting down the days to retirement.

Like in any workplace, they complain about the time: “Isn’t it 4:00 yet?” Talk about food: “Berger’s cookies are the best!” “I hate olives!” “It’s Chipotle Day!” and discuss weekend plans: “I drove to North Carolina in a snowstorm!”

They have something they call Trivia Thursday. Ethan poses trivia questions to team members, both to pass the time and to stimulate discussion.  I never have found out if there is a prize for the winning team!

Some trivia about PT:  Physical therapy involves the use of mechanical force, manual therapy, or exercise therapy to remediate impairments and promote mobility and function. An anticipated growth of 34% in physical therapy employment is predicted from 2014-2024.  With large numbers of baby boomers ( like myself) breaking bones, the need for physical therapy is sure to grow.

Now the answers to those trivia questions:

Don Perignon

The Moon

Daintree Forest, north of Cairns, Australia

 

It’s not trivia to say that I’m sorry I broke my wrist, but I’m fortunate to have been introduced to these great trivia-loving professionals.

 

 

Waiting for the Sun

Waiting for the sun

Can you feel it

Now that spring has come

That it’s time to live in the scattered sun

– Jim Morrison

 

Apologies to the Doors, but it IS time to live in the “scattered sun”!

What a March it has been!  Days of strong winds were intense enough to bring down power lines, and, in our back yard, to rip a tree out of the ground by its roots.

Weeks of frigid temperatures, followed by a wallop of an early spring snowstorm have left us chilled to the bone and pining for the sun.  The dreary, unsettled March weather is apparently due to a polar vortex split, and the bad news is that the forecast calls for a cooler than average spring.

How I long to put away the heavy boots, the thick scarves, gloves, and coats, and don light weight dresses in pastel shades of pink and blue. How I want to again wear sandals and flip flops, capris and straw hats and sunglasses. I dream of walking past rows of red tulips, purple hyacinths and yellow daffodils nodding in the warm sunshine, to traverse lush green lawns and hike over rolling hills. I envision miles of sandy beaches and cushiony chaise lounges positioned on decks and porches, golden rays warming winter weary souls.

The winter has brought personal sadness, the deaths of friends’ husbands and parents, and another kind of death, the mental illness of a dear colleague.  Like a thief it came, robbing memory and personality.  This is the scourge of dementia: a group of conditions characterized by impairment of brain function.

Dementia affects not only the victim, but family and friends as well.  At least nine different types of dementia have been identified, but none are reversible and all worsen over time.

Is there hope of finding a cure for dementia?  Two new drugs that are showing promise, Solenezumab and Liraglutide, are currently undergoing clinical trials.  With a total number of affected individuals predicted to increase to 13 million in the US by 2050, the quest for a cure is real and imminent.

Yes, we are waiting for the sun- for peace, for health, for comfort.  After the winter is over, spring will come, and with it, the warmth we long for.

Someday, I trust there will be a bright and golden sphere where we and our beloved friends and family will enjoy the sun eternally.

After the Fall

On a frigid February evening, I was gingerly walking on the sidewalk in front of my house, only to hit a patch of black ice. I went flying. Oh no! Is this really happening? I landed on my left side and knew immediately that I was not ok. A trip to OSS verified what I already knew- I had broken my wrist, in two places no less, and needed surgery.

I have learned that the wrist is the most frequently broken bone in the arm, and that in the US one out of every ten broken bones is a broken wrist.  Lucky me!

Now encased in a cast from wrist to elbow, I am learning a valuable life lesson: after the fall, what now?

After the initial pain, I am learning how challenging it is to do things with one hand.

Things I can’t do:

open jars and cans

fold sheets

sleep comfortably

drive

cut my meat

hook my bra!

 

Things I can do:

dress myself ( slowly!)

load the dishwasher ( with one hand)

text and type (one-handed!)

wash and blow dry my hair ( though it looks nothing like it should!)

Still, over the last weeks, I am reminded of a quote from the Dalai Lama: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

So, I am accepting a lot of help from people- loving care from my husband, cards, visits, and fruit baskets from loved ones, and casseroles from caring friends.

I realize how brazenly I took for granted my good health, and how, in the blink of an eye, ( or a patch of ice), it can be taken away.

Finding something to wear has uncovered a whole set of problems. How to look somewhat fashionable, and not like a real sickie. I don’t want to scare people.

Forget my winter sweaters. They don’t fit over the bulky cast. Hello, short sleeve shirts and sweaters thrown over my shoulder. I wish I had a cape! But spring is coming, and I will get this thing off sometime.

 

As you can imagine, I am spending a lot of time sitting around in recuperation. Enter the Winter Olympics!  From snowboarding with Sean White to skiing with Lindsay Vaughn- I learned about their past falls and injuries, only to medal in these games. From tragedy to triumph!

And those falls! Those gorgeously attired figure skaters, gliding over the ice, only to fall while attempting one of their almost unimaginable quads.  Whatever happened to the graceful Peggy Flemings and Dorothy Hamills of past Olympics, who were honored for their artistry more than death defying jumps?

And then, tragedy of tragedies, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, occurred shortly after my surgery.

Fallen students, fallen families, falling tears.

After the fall, I pray there will be an answer.  A recovery for me, and a recovery for the land I love.

Here’s to the fallen- may we rise again.

Alien Invasion

Last evening, I was looking out the window when I was surprised to see a bright light in the sky. As I gazed more closely, I realized that it was a vehicle of some type, cylindrical in shape. It hovered right over the bird feeder in my backyard, then slowly sank to the ground. After a few minutes, a door on the side of the craft opened. Imagine my amazement when a little figure emerged. By this time, I had made my way to the door, and stepped out into the yard to greet my visitor. The creature was small in stature, its skin a luminous gray-green color, its eyes large and black. It spoke through a thin opening in its narrow face. In perfect English, it said, “I come in peace.”

Well, not really.

But, since the dawn of time, people around the globe have looked up at the sky and have witnessed objects, lights, or crafts that could not be explained.

Which raises the age-old question, Are we alone?

In recent decades, scores of photos of UFO’s have been taken.

A farmer in 1950’s Oregon captured a disk-shaped craft hovering over his fields. Despite thorough investigation, no hoax has ever been found.

Lights from an unidentified craft were photographed by a state police officer over Route I-84 near Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1987. Thousands of people witnessed UFO’s in this “Hudson Valley Wave” of the mid 1980’s.

A former Navy pilot was “pretty weirded out” by an unexplained episode over the Pacific in 2004. A mysterious aircraft was hovering over the ocean, causing the waves to froth and foam, as if the water was boiling. Then the object peeled away, “accelerating like something I’ve never seen.”

Then there is the infamous case of Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. An unexplained aircraft crashed in the desert, leaving debris of unknown origin, and alien corpses.

A 1997 CNN/Time poll revealed that the majority of people interviewed believed that aliens had indeed visited earth, and that aliens had landed at Roswell, but that all relevant information was being kept secret by the US government.

A government cover up? Who knows?

But if aliens are visiting earth, where is the concrete proof? “We haven’t looked hard enough,” said Jill Tarter, former director of SETI ( The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

Pop culture has certainly taken off with books and films featuring aliens. Who could forget “ET”, Steven Spielberg’s 1982 fable about a lonely boy who befriends an extraterrestrial stranded on earth?

In 1997’s “Contact”, Jodie Foster discovers the existence of aliens on Vega and is chosen to travel to that distant star to meet them.

Sigourney Weaver faces down evil monster in the science fiction horror film, “Alien.”

I don’t know about you, but if there are aliens, I would certainly prefer the gentle creatures depicted in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” versus the beings bent on world destruction portrayed in “Independence Day” and “The War of the Worlds.”

What are the chances that aliens are actually visiting our planet? No one knows, but according to Air Space Magazine, the odds that we are the only advanced species in the galaxy are one in 60 billion.

With at least 200 billion galaxies, what are the chances that we are the only intelligent life?

I truly hope that before I leave the planet, I get to see a UFO, or better yet, get to witness an alien up close and personal.

What about you? Have you seen any UFO’s in the night sky?