We survived Europe…or, did Europe survive us?!

I had been working on this blog post since we got back to the states in the latter part of May.  Nearly five months and 12,650 words later, I’m still not sure I’ve covered everything that I wanted to share, so this may be edited a time or two…or thirty after it’s posted!  I hope you enjoy reading about our trip as much as we enjoyed our 13-day tour of Europe.

While it had been a long-time dream of mine to visit Europe, I neither knew when nor how I would ever make the trip a reality.  It was one of those “someday” goals and I imagined me doing it later in life, with a tour group of senior citizens or perhaps with the Red Hat Society.  Then late last year, the university where my daughter Amber is a student extended their group tour to family members.  It was incredibly priced, much less than commercial tours that I’d researched, and we simply could not pass up this opportunity.  We acquired the last two available spots for this tour. 

Immediately, I had two major concerns regarding this adventure.  The first was my claustrophobia and being in a small, cramped airplane seat for 10 straight hours.  The second was my swelling feet and being in a small, cramped airplane seat for 10 straight hours.  These thoughts went through my head starting from the moment we signed up for the tour.  My daughter had a front row seat to my claustrophobic restlessness during a 2,000+ hour bus ride from Kentucky to New Jersey last October.  And, we even stopped for breaks fairly regularly.  My anxiety over flying for so many hours and feeling caged/trapped made my daughter a little bit anxious, too.  She’d said, “I’m not sitting by you,” several times throughout the months preceding our once in a lifetime European tour.

Sometime during the week of our scheduled departure, I acquired a monster head cold which, given my past history with colds, was expected to wind up in my chest as a lovely case of bronchitis.  My co-workers urged me to seek medical attention before leaving the country to stay ahead of it.  I followed their advice and made an appointment with my primary care nurse practitioner.  I told her, “I know there is no cure for a common cold, but I need something to ease these symptoms.”  She definitely hooked me up all I could possibly need, cough syrup, nasal sprays, and even prescribed “just in case” antibiotics for an infection should my symptoms worsen (which I did not need, thank goodness).  During this visit, I told her about the European tour which was only a few days away and how I worried about managing my claustrophobia.  She prescribed an anxiety medication, which was not a controlled substance, to have with me should I need it. 

Before we go further, I should explain that at age 15, I was diagnosed with lymphedema praecox.  “Praecox” is merely a fancy word that means occurring early in life, which for me was adolescence.  What this meant for me was that my feet were swelling, there was no cure, I’d have to wear supportive compression hosiery for the rest of my life (a sexy addition to any teenage girl’s wardrobe), and that it could, and would likely, worsen over time.  At first, it wasn’t so bad — the swelling.  Some days it was unrecognizable, or was only recognizable by me, and I could wear pretty shoes with straps, etc.  But by age 20, after I had my first child, my feet were swollen to some degree every single day and, as warned, it has worsened with age.  I’m 58 now.  For 43 years, I’ve dreamed of wearing any kind of shoe that I want to wear.  Each day the shoes I choose to wear are based on which ones will be the most comfortable, given the current size of my feet.  I’ve said many times, “If my swelling feet could be fixed, I’d wear high-heeled hooker shoes with my scrubs every single day.”  I would, too — just because I could!  I’ve kept this plight to myself for decades, with only my family and close friends knowing about it.  Something about nearing 60 years old — it’s not such a big deal any more, and letting out what you perceive as your secret shame and/or source of embarrassment is actually kind of liberating.  Recently, I told my husband, “If they come up with a trial surgery/treatment for this, I’m going to be first in line!!”  Oh, to have my shoes fit the same way every day.  To be able to spend all day on the beach without my feet increasing in size by the hour.  It’s been a real hindrance to the full enjoyment of my life.  The hot summer months are the worst for this lymph edema sufferer.  No amount of elevating my legs is enough and my feet and lower legs become very swollen, hot, painful, not to mention extremely embarrassing.  Also, so very sexy — on the beach!  Anyway, back to our trip.

We had two separate flights from Kentucky to Munich, Germany.  The first flight which took us to Atlanta was less than an hour long and was quite pleasant.  That is until we reached our maximum elevation.  This is where my nasal congestion increased to epic proportions causing extreme pressure in my head.  My ears were clogged and felt like they would explode.  I could not breath through my nose at all nor could I blow anything out and when I tried to my ears would squeak.  It was sheer misery and, as luck would have it, my nasal spray was in my checked luggage.  You know, since we’re only allowed a whopping 2 tablespoons of liquid with us inside the freakin’ plane.  As we began our descent into Atlanta, things began to change.  Quickly and rather drastically, the pressure in my head lessened, my ears popped several times and opened up.  Then snot basically began gushing out of every hole in my face as well as running down my throat causing me to cough as if I were drowning.  I was a human hagfish and couldn’t keep the flow of facial tissues coming fast enough to catch all the mucus.  Perhaps an air sickness bag would’ve been more useful at this point.  Ha ha!  I eventually got it all under control and could breathe again.  We landed in Atlanta and rushed through the airport to catch our next flight. The big 10-hour one, going over the ocean, to Munich, Germany.  Breathe!!  It was during our rushing through the Atlanta airport that the large suitcase I had borrowed from my mother-in-law started to lose its retread tires.  I think the first chunk was lost on an escalator.  Thereafter, wherever I pulled this mammoth and very heavy suitcase, it would clunk clunk clunk as the wheels turned.  Won’t it be delightful hauling this thing around Europe?  Let the fun begin!  Step, clunk.  Step, clunk. Step, clunk.

In our travel information and tips provided by the university, it mentioned that we should “sleep as much as possible during the flight.”  Yeah, okay.  I am not even a car sleeper, how the heck will I sleep on an airplane?  In those cramped seats?  But, I remembered I had medication along, took some deep breaths and tried to remain calm via natural methods.

The seats on this long flight were very small.  I mean tiny.  The back of the seat in front of me, which had a little tv screen on it for my personal enjoyment, could not have been more than 16 inches from my face.  This is not an exaggeration.  I’ve been in coach seats with much more room.  Once we were safely buckled in our seats, I looked at my daughter while trying to contain the apprehension I was feeling, which was steadily increasing and very near full-on panic.  She didn’t know whether to smack me or request a different seat!  As calmly and assuringly as I could muster, I said, “It’ll be okay.”  I repeated this over and over in my mind.  As we took off, I prepared myself for the clogging of my entire head again, which, thankfully, didn’t happen on this flight.  I suppose I had been thoroughly emptied of mucus in Atlanta.

Delta international flights are pretty cool!  They served us dinner, a meal that most would describe as a “TV dinner.”  I was pleasantly surprised and found it to be quite tasty and filling.  After our meal, the flight attendants rolled the drink cart through the aisles.  I saw wine!  Wine is good.  Wine won’t give me restless leg syndrome (like Benadryl has in the past).  I requested a glass, of course.  As I sat there, happily clutching my deeply revered beverage, I waited for the flight attendant to tell me how much I owed her.  She just smiled and proceeded down the aisle with her cart.  What? FREE WINE?!  Delta ROCKS!  I was saved.  Maybe, just maybe, I could actually sleep on this flight and I’d wake up when we landed safely in Germany.  Yeah, right.

Since I didn’t know how the anxiety medication would affect me, I was hesitant to try it.  What if it made me even more anxious?  Benadryl has been known to do that.  If I take 1/2 a tablet, it helps, but a whole one gives me the symptoms of restless leg syndrome — all over my body.  Wouldn’t my daughter LOVE to be sitting next to that  for 10 hours in these cramped, tiny airplane seats!  On the flip side, what if it totally zonked me and I had to be carried off the plane?  I decided to just wing it….er, wine it — on my own and hoped for the best. 

Side note:  I can pretty much guarantee that when I’m way up there in years and the nurse gives me medication in hopes of calming me down and helping me sleep through the night, it will have the total opposite effect.  Yep!  I’ll be the one running the halls, climbing the curtains and dancing a jig on the dining room table.  In my lifetime I’ve taken three medications that generally cause relaxation and/or drowsiness for most people:  Marijuana in my teen years (yeah, I did that) resulted in extreme paranoia.  Morphine in my 40’s after major surgery caused extreme restlessness with no sleep whatsoever.  And, most currently, Benadryl=a whole tablet gives me full-body restless leg, as already mentioned.  Perhaps the substances meant to perk me up would knock me out?  Maybe, but I have no intentions of finding out!

Oh, and in my preparation for our long and most comfortable flight, I’d purchased two foot sling thingies for me and my daughter.  I’m so thoughtful, ain’t I?  This device hangs over your tray table and provides you with a little hammock where you can rest your feet keeping them several inches off the floor.  The pictures on Amazon sure made it look comfy.  Well…when you barely have room for your knees and your tray table is trying to give you the Heimlich maneuver, there is no way that this handy dandy comfort device is going to work.  It requires actual leg room.  Epic fail.  It wasn’t long after our dinner that we were asked to close the cover on our windows, the overhead lights were dimmed and it was apparently nighty night time.  At least for those lucky travelers who are capable of sleeping in a moving vehicle.

I was able to get about an hour of sleep while, one at a time, I’d wedge each of my already puffy feet between the head rests of the seats in front of us in a desperate attempt to achieve some elevation.  Any at all.  Mind you, I had to work quite hard in order to get my leg up through the 16 inches of space and up high enough that it could even be considered elevation.  Higher than your heart, that’s what they tell you.  I looked like a circus contortionist wannabe who couldn’t quite nail the audition.  Take that foot down; work hard to get the other foot up there in this attractive position.  Desperate times, right?

Hours and a few glasses of wine later, after attempting to watch movies or play games on the screen in front of me while every other passenger slumbered away, we were allowed to uncover our windows and let in the morning sunshine.  From my window seat, I gazed down at the multi-colored patchwork fields as we were descending into Munich.  It was such a beautiful sight. Breathtaking..

Filing through airport security in Munich was an experience.  Not being able to read the signs or understand the language is very unfamiliar territory, a tad intimidating even.  But, the gentleman behind the plexiglass at the customs counter gave me a friendly “Dankeschön” as he stamped my passport and we were all loaded onto a bus where we met our tour guide.  He was a handsome young man, I guessed about 28 years old.  He was tall, slender, and had long dread locks of blondish hair wrapped around the top of his head all held in place by a headband and his voice sounded just like Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s when he told us, “Gootin morning!”  We later found out he is from Austria.  Makes sense.  Our bus driver was the epitome of a mountain man.  A full beard, blue jeans, a belly that protruded above his belt, suspenders and hiking shoes.  I nicknamed our tour guide “Sven” and the bus driver “Mountain Bob.”  Sven gave us a rundown of what to expect for the day along with a very serious lecture on the importance of being on time.  He referred to it as “German time,” meaning no leeway, no flexibility, you show up on the dot, period.  “German time,” he would proclaim, pointing to his watch.  I thought, who is this mother fella anyway?!  My experience in Europe thus far was a bit cold, unnerving and felt far too similarly to riding on the “cattle truck” with 50 other brand new and nervous recruits on that first day of army basic training.  What had we gotten ourselves into here?

After sitting and waiting on the bus for almost two hours, due to other tour mates having unfortunate and unexpected flight delays, we were finally on our way to tour the city of Munich!  It was on this our first bus ride that Sven introduced us to “The water song.”  He told us that whenever we heard this song that he would be selling bottled water for two euros each and would deliver it to us as he walked the aisle of the bus.  The song he played was performed by a band from Puerto Rico, if memory serves.  It’s pretty amusing, riding on a bus tour through Germany being guided by an Austrian man while listening to Puerto Rican music.   

I was looking forward to checking into our hotel, maybe getting a small nap, and most definitely a shower.  The bus took us to the hotel, but only to drop off our luggage.  No sleep. No shower.  Ugh!  On to see Munich, on foot.  Now, Sven?  He is no ordinary tour guide.  He is an extreme speed-walking tour guide.  I couldn’t have walked any faster if my ass was on fire and I still lagged behind the group.  After we speedily walked 9,346 miles through downtown Munich in just under 90 minutes, we had a little free time.  It wasn’t even 11:00 a.m. but we felt like it had to be at least 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening.  Our entire first day in Europe was spent walking the city streets of Munich and it continually felt like the clock was not moving — at all.  That jet lag stuff?  It is for real. 

We enjoyed our first authentic German lunch consisting of white sausage and sauerkraut at a small restaurant in the city where we learned our first lesson in Europe:  public restrooms are not free.  There was a tip plate on the sink and they used the honor system with the patrons of this restaurant.  Not knowing what the going rate was for using the facilities, I put a 2 euro coin in the plate.  We also learned that refills are not free as they are in the U.S., and that water is not free.  Okay, then.  There were, however, a few restaurants and stores that offered a fee-free restroom and for this reason, our motto for the rest of our tour was, “Never pass up a free restroom.”  Even if you’d just emptied your bladder, just empty it again while it’s free.

After lunch, we met up with the group and walked another 27 miles to look at the next exciting site— a garden.  Really?!  I was like, okay, this blows!  We haven’t even been to our hotel to get a shower or take a smidgen of a nap.  We’re tired, feeling grungy and now they want us to hike all over Germany like a bootcamp road march?  I just wanna go back home.  I wonder if I can bump up my return flight to like right now!  Nevertheless, I pulled up my big girl panties and persevered.  I have to admit, the garden was quite beautiful.  Fine.  I’ll stop being a big whiney puss.

Munich is beautiful and absolutely the cleanest place I’d ever seen.  There is a sweet smell throughout the city that I was never able to identify or find its source.  We walked through miles of a very wide piazza lined with churches, street vendors, shops and restaurants.  Much like, New York City, there were street entertainers and pigeons, too,  but there was no litter or bird poop on the ground.  Amazing!  Amber later said, “Pigeons probably hold it because you have to pay to poop here!”  The restaurants and shops had no dust.  Our hotel was immaculately clean and it too had that sweet, unidentified aroma.  I believe it was Walt Disney who wanted to create a place that was so clean you could eat off the streets.  Well, kudos to you, Munich, you’ve accomplished that feat.  Incredible!

After getting some much needed sleep our first night in a lovely hotel, we had to wake up early for breakfast and more speed walking.  Oh, in the lobby of this hotel, there is — are you ready for this?  A wine vending machine!!  Yes, it’s true!  You put your euros in the slot, press a button and a chilled, single-serve bottle of wine pops out the bottom.  How amazing is that?  Eureka!  Hmm…I might have a problem. 

Every morning, the hotel offered a vast breakfast buffet which included some odd items, at least for this American.  There was a large selection of what I’d call cold cuts.  Lunch meat?  For breakfast?  Some of those meats looked kind of undercooked to me, too.  I don’t remember what I ate that first morning, probably some scrambled eggs, but I later succumbed to partaking of the cold cuts with a slice of cheese and a pat of butter.  It was surprisingly tasty and I repeated it for nearly every breakfast thereafter. 

Odd fact:  In Germany (well, in this hotel at least), there aren’t any washcloths for bathing.  There were none in our hotel room, so we asked the front desk lady if we could have a couple washcloths.  It took several attempts to get her to understand what we were talking about, but once she understood she told us that they did not have them there.  I asked, “Well, then how do you wash your back?”  She said, “Well, you have a friend in the shower with you.”  Well, okay then.  Germans are no fools!  We did a lot of browsing through shops in Munich and always looked through the home goods sections to see if we could find wash cloths.  We weren’t finding any!  So weird.  About the moment we called off our search, voila!  We were in the TK Maxx, that’s a German TJ Maxx, and there they were on a shelf.  There was only one color, mind you, but it was indeed a wash cloth, it said so right on the shelf label.  We bought two of them and once we returned to the hotel we so desperately wanted to show the front desk lady what we’d been talking about, but she wasn’t there at the time.  Ironically, Amber only used her washcloth once, then resorted to bathing the German way.  I used mine repeatedly, not willing to risk missing that spot in the middle of my back. 

We spent a total of three days in Munich.  The Glockenspiel was something to see.  It’s like the world’s largest cuckoo clock.  I don’t know that it actually holds that title, it’s just what I call it.  Every day at 5:00 p.m., it would start its show with moving parts on several levels.  Sadly, we were only able to witness it one time.  We also toured the first concentration camp every built — Dachau, about an hour bus ride from Munich.  This was a harrowing experience to say the least.  So many innocent lives lost due to ignorance and hatred.  No words can describe how it feels to walk through the room where people were ordered to completely disrobe for their “disinfection,” men, women and children.  Then, led to the adjoining room where they would all take their last breaths — of deadly gas.  In the next room — the many cremation ovens. 

My daughter and I managed to get separated from one another in the Dachau museum.  To be fair, it is a very large museum and was flooded with tourists.  I went outside to see if maybe she’d started walking back toward the designated “meeting place.”  I didn’t see her or the group.  A few minutes later, the group leader messaged us on the WhatsApp, asking where we were and if we were on our way to the bus.  Apparently, they were all aboard and waiting, for us.  I looked around again for Amber.  Nowhere in sight.  Not wanting to hold up the tour bus, I messaged them to go on and head to our next site, a castle, and that we would get a cab and catch up with them.  Less than 10 minutes later, my daughter and I were reunited and walked to the main entrance to call a cab.  Our cab driver was a slender female with coal black hair.  She was wearing super high-heeled stiletto shoes and was dressed in like — well, I describe it as a feminine tuxedo.  Very ritzy.  Her cab was a Mercedes and its leather interior was immaculate.  I’d never ridden in a Mercedes.  You just don’t see things like that in Kentucky — a Mercedes taxi?  Come to think of it, I’d never had a female cab driver either.

The ritzy cab driver dropped us off in downtown Munich and we started walking to find the bus for our next tourist attraction, a palace.  GPS on my phone was not helping.  I messaged the group through the WhatsApp and asked for directions.  We even asked people on the street for directions and still couldn’t find the bus.  Finally, we realized that where the bus was waiting would be quite a walk, we didn’t make it in time, and missed our ride.  Again.  At this point, my right knee is buckling due to the stress of all the speed walking we’d done and I could barely walk at all with the severe pain involved.  We decided to hail another cab and catch up with the tour bus.  Again.  We managed to find one and asked the driver to take us to the place where our tour was headed.  This time, our cab driver was a very friendly and talkative Greek man in his 60’s, I imagined.  We’ll call him Nick.  Well, Nick told us how he loved Americans, where his family originated, and he shared a few other stories with us.  He mentioned that he wanted to buy us “a cream.”  He seemed genuinely thrilled and delighted to have us in his presence.  I told him we really needed to catch up with our tour bus and that we had a schedule (not that that had mattered much to us since we kept missing the bus).  “Ooooh, it will take no time,” he said.  At this point, we are Nick’s unwilling passengers as he navigates his taxi through the narrow side streets of Munich, all the while I’m picturing the news story about us being kidnapped by a psychopathic cab driver from Greece!  Nick parks in a very tight spot in front of a gelato shop and leads us inside.  Oooh, so “cream” is really gelato.  Got it.  It really was a gelato shop, but I wondered if it was a front for some sort of illegal business.  Breathe.  He asks us what flavor we’d like, pays the bill, and we all sit down at a little round cafe table to enjoy our selections.  We really need to get back with our tour now.  But, Nick had other plans.  He left the gelato shop to go to the adjoining store and soon comes back with two lottery play bills for my daughter and I to fill out for him.  He’s convinced that being American, and “pretty women,” that we will surely select his winning numbers.  Okay, we’ll play along.  We select some numbers on our tickets and Nick takes them next door to make the final purchase.  He comes back with his “winning tickets” and rubs them on top of our heads, you know, for extra good luck.  Then, at last, we are back in the cab en route to the tour, already in progress.  We arrive at the palace just 10 minutes before the bus was to depart for the next destination.  At least we caught it this time!

During our free time, we spent a lot of time walking that piazza in Munich, browsing through the shops and the beautiful churches.  Wow, the churches, all exquisitely adorned with sculptures, paintings and ginormous pipe organs.  There were a lot of people walking through Munich, at all times.  We assumed they were all German and lived there because they seemed to all know exactly where they were going.  They all walked very briskly, too, and good luck to you if you happen to be in their path.  Bam!  I got knocked in the shoulder so many times, and they just kept walking.  Then, I realized what I was doing wrong.  These native Germans would make no eye contact with passersby.  None.  At least not that we saw.  Aha!!  Okay, got it.  So, I started walking exactly as they had, keeping my eyes fixed on my destination, attempting no eye contact with any passerby.  Eureka!  That worked.  I didn’t get knocked sideways any more after that. 

One afternoon in Munich, we happened upon a very friendly French man who was immediately enamored with my daughter.  He was dressed very finely, with a tan trench coat, nice shoes and a hat.  So dapper.  He took off his hat and commenced to flipping his long bangs back and forth, with his hand, from the back of his head to the front of his face.  Then, he’d put the hat back on his head and continue talking to us.  He must’ve done this four or five times during our conversation on that street corner in Munich.  Is that a mating ritual in France?  He was some kind of doctor, gave us his card and allowed me to take a picture of him with my daughter.  The look on her face in one of the photos clearly screams, “HELP ME!!”  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I’m such a supportive and loving mother.

On our last day in Germany, we went to see the Neuschwanstein Castle.  It’s the castle that inspired the one featured in the Sleeping Beauty movie.  It was truly stunning and we wished we could’ve seen more of it.  But, the best part of that attraction for me was waiting in line and killing time by singing the Fresh Prince theme song in a duet with Sven.  He started it, I just joined in.  He really was a lot of fun throughout our tour. 

Our time in Munich having been completed, we were on our way to Venice, Italy.  But first, we would stop in Innsbruck, Austria for a short visit.  Oh, what a magnificent sight Austria is to behold.  The mammoth, snow-capped mountains make the houses look like miniature toys.  Sven had the bus pull over for a short time so that we could get some pictures of the majestic countryside.  I couldn’t take enough pictures of the awe-inspiring scenery.  Exquisite!

Alas, our pitstop was short and sweet and we were loaded back on the bus, you now, still operating on German time.  We were headed down a pretty steep hill when I heard a few passengers gasp loudly and one woman said, “Did we hit it?!!”  We’d apparently almost hit a deer as we were coming down that mountain.  Then, before we could reach the bottom of it, the bus was pulled over for speeding and Mountain Bob received a lovely ticket.  I exclaimed, “Hide the pot!!”  It just was not Mountain Bob’s day.  Once he received his citation for speeding (not for drugs, the cop didn’t hear what I’d said), he resumed his position behind the wheel and yelled out the window toward that cop, “I hope your mother knows what you’ve done!!”  You tell him, Mountain Bob!  Several tour mates would enjoy naps during our bus rides.  I was envious, yet didn’t want to miss any of the sites either.  When we’d be approaching our stops, Sven would pick up the microphone and we’d here, “Wakey wakey” through the speakers.   

An hour or two later, we stopped at a McDonald’s so that we could get a snack while the bus driver had the bus refueled. “Wakey wakey,” Sven announced to make sure we were all awake.  Amber noticed an Aldi store right beside the McDonald’s and neither of us wanting anything from McD’s, we decided to get our snack there instead.  We went through every aisle, comparing all the different foods to what we have back home in the U.S.  We selected our snacks and exited the store.  After a few photo ops with the Austrian Aldi sign, we ate our cheese sticks while walking around until it was time to load onto the bus.  Once we got comfortably adjusted in our seats, Amber rustled through her jacket to locate her cellphone.  It wasn’t there.  She gutted her purse and it was not there.  I looked through it, too, just to be sure.  Nope.  Mere minutes from the expected departure time, we quickly got off the bus and I let the tour guide know what was happening as I ran back to Aldi to see if anyone had turned in a lost cellphone.  This, after Sven had given us another serious lecture about the importance of “being on time” and staying “on schedule” because we didn’t want to hinder the enjoyment of our fellow tour mates. 

I looked through the aisles of the Aldi store hoping to find the phone on the floor.  No such luck.  I did, however, find a group of three handsome young men and asked if they spoke English.  The first one pointed to the next one and then he and the second one pointed to the third guy.  The third guy said that he knew a little English, in a voice just like Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s (he looked like him, too) while making the “lil bit” gesture with his hand.  I asked if anyone had turned in a phone and after rephrasing it a time or two, he understood and asked a woman clerk who happened to be wearing a headset.  She called another employee and soon shook her head.  No phone had been turned in.  Dang it!

I thanked Arnold for his help and headed back outside.  Amber had retraced her steps through McD’s.  No luck.  Back at the bus, Sven asked, “Can’t you track it?”  I try to use the iPhone finder app on my phone, but it requires Wifi and there is none on our bus. “Does McDonald’s have WiFi?”  Why, yes, they do!  We rushed over to McD’s and after several attempts, it finally connects to the Wifi.  We were ready to locate Amber’s phone, at last.  Amber wasn’t sure if she even remembered her Apple password, but she guessed it correctly on the first try.  She reported her phone as lost and entered a six digit code to be used for unlocking it once it was located.  Now, let’s track that phone.  And…go!  Phone cannot be traced because it is offline.  It was offline because the battery was dead.  Amber’s phone battery was dead more than it was alive, it simply would not hold a charge.  She really needs to get a new battery, or a new phone.  Amber felt sure she’d put her phone her jacket pocket and since it was warm and sunny that day, she carried the jacket and assumed the phone had simply fallen out. 

Plan C:  We retraced our steps around the parking lot, the Aldi sign and the grassy areas where we’d been earlier.  Still no phone.  With sick stomachs, we admitted defeat and returned to our seats on the bus.  I decided to check her purse one more time, just to be sure we didn’t miss it.  No phone inside.  Again, dang it!  Then, I spotted a little pocket on the outside of her purse.  Maybe, just maybe.  I unzip the pocket and peek inside.  Voila!  Guess what was in there?  You guessed it!  It was in her “pocket,” just not the one in her jacket!  I announced that the phone had been found and we were finally on our way to Innsbruck, only 30 mins behind schedule.  So sorry, Sven. Tsk tsk.  Later, Amber received an email saying, “Amber’s iPhone was found near Brennbichl 6463 Karrosten Austria at 3:20 AM PDT.”  That iPhone tracker thing really works!

Along with my puffy feet and claustrophobia, I am also plagued with TC — “traveler’s constipation.”  Yep.  I travel.  The gates get locked up.  At this point in our tour, it had been several days since I’d had any output in the poop department and I was getting worried, as well as uncomfortably bloated.  We were in Innsbruck, Austria, enjoying our walk through the streets of this picturesque city and, as luck would have it, we spotted a pharmacy.  Yay!!  Relief is in sight.  Green Cross was the name of it.  (Later, a friend of mine who’d lived in Germany for several years told me, “Always trust the Green Cross.”) We go inside as I’m praying that the pharmacist speaks even a little English.  She greets us at the counter and I ask if she speaks English to which she answered yes and asked how she can help me.  As subtly as I can, I convey my problem to her and request suppositories.  She said, “Ahh.  Do want fast acting or slow acting?”  Of course, I chose the fast one.  Who wants to take a slow one, not knowing when or where that sucker would activate the old poop chute?  She turns toward the shelves behind her and selects a green box of Dulcolax suppositories.  I paid for my prize and told her, “Thank you!!  This is my souvenir from Austria!!”  She chuckled as we went on our merry way.  We had a few minutes before catching our bus so we decided to get a cappuccino.  This cappuccino was the very best one I had during the entire 13-day tour!  I could spend a whole vacation in Austria.  Innsbruck, much like Munich, is extremely clean.  No pigeon poop on their sidewalks either.  Our short visit was nearing its end and all of us tourists were mingling at the designated meeting place, waiting for our bus to pick us up.  Onward to Italy! 

We were all standing on the corner waiting for our bus to pick us up, just watching the cars, busses and trolleys go by when a woman in our group shouts, “I left my wallet!!!”  She’d had it in the restaurant where they’d eaten lunch and she felt she left in the restroom.  She and her husband ran like the wind back to the restaurant, but the wallet was long gone.  The police were called, reports given, and all the proper channels followed to start the process of getting her a new passport.  What a day!  Narrowly missing a deer, speeding tickets, and a missing wallet.  Maybe Sven should’ve skipped the importance of being on time lecture — it sure seemed to be biting him in the backside.  I felt so badly for our tour mate.  Such a sick and helpless feeling — in a foreign land and your money, passport and identification vanishes without a trace.  I told her how sorry I was that this was happening and hugged her.  There wasn’t anything else I could do to help her.

Along with my swelling feet, claustrophobia and lack of good hearing, plus traveler’s constipation (isn’t my husband such a lucky man), I have also been blessed with an incredible smeller.  I mean, I smell everything.  I once sniffed out a small water leak in our house because the smell of mildew lead me to its source and my husband didn’t smell it.  This super olfactory system of mine can be a blessing, and it can be a curse.  I must tell you, if you are a smoker, I am not against you.  You have the right to smoke wherever and whenever you desire.  That being said, my ultra-sensitive nose simply cannot endure secondhand smoke.  It’s more than just an unpleasant odor in the air.  It causes me real physical discomfort, with like pain and everything.  Thankfully, within our tour group, there were very few smokers.  However, the ones who did smoke always seemed to be upwind of me and I seemed to relentlessly wind up directly downwind of their exhaust as they puffed away at every opportunity, during the miles and miles of walking through Europe.  Having had enough of my sinuses, eyes and throat burning, I resorted to trying my best to stay in front and/or upwind of them.  Aw, fresh air.  It felt so good.  However, my attempts to breathe clean healthy air seemed to be taken as a confrontational afront aimed directly at these smokers, like I was trying to race them and I always wanted to be first.  While it may have appeared to be the case, I was just trying to breathe, people!  Thus ensued the uncoordinated tango-waltz-foxtrot of me trying to breathe clean air and them trying to stay in front of the entire tour crowd, mainly me, everywhere we went.  I was, I’m semi-ashamed to admit, tempted more than once to trip them as they raced in front of me time and time again, sometimes rudely cutting me off while we were waiting in single-file, standstill lines.  But, I refrained.  (Pats self on back with a devious look that says, now I kinda wish I had’ve done it!)  I’m so bad. 

Also, in the travel tips and information we received prior to this tour, it was suggested that we pack light and plan to “re-use” outfits.  Of course, I still packed like I was going on a month long safari and “may need this or that.”  I brought 4 pairs of shoes, and tons of clothes.  This makes for an extremely heavy suitcase, broken wheels or not.

Prior to entering the hotel in Jeselo, Italy, where we stayed while touring Venice, we were told there was no elevator.  With luck, Amber and I were assigned a room on the fifth floor.  Oh joy!   We were so excited about the opportunity to lug our suitcases up five flights of stairs.  To our surprise and delight, however, after we’d received our room keys we saw an elevator!  Why would they tell us there wasn’t one?  Well, we soon discovered the answer to that.  This elevator was more like a supersized dumbwaiter.  We pressed the button to open the door and looked inside.  It was either pack ourselves into this closet trolley and suffer severe panic, possible heart attack and death, or lug our heavy-ass suitcases up five flights of stairs and suffer heart attack and death.  Okay, we can do this.  We stepped into this elevator of death and had to stand side-by-side very closely, I mean shoulder to shoulder, and then stack our suitcases on top of one another for everything to fit.  Breeeeeathe.  Push the “5” button.  Off we go.  Twenty-three minutes later, we reach the fifth floor.  Not really, but it sure felt like it and it was super hot and stuffy in that thing!  We head to our room, 508, dragging our luggage behind us, my huge suitcase shedding more pieces of its retread tires along the way.  I hand the key to Amber who tries it on the door.  Doesn’t work.  She tries again.  Entry denied.  She said, “You try,” and hands the key to me.  I couldn’t get it to work either.  I look at the key, like I can figure out why it’s not working and say, “Oooh, it’s for room 506!”  We walk the two doors down to our room and we’re laughing so hard that I have to stop and squeeze my legs together to retain my urine.  I had almost regained my composure when our luggage falls over one at a time like dominos, which causes us to laugh even harder — making it completely impossible to retain my urine any more.  There’s one pair of pants I won’t be able to “re-use.”  Sometimes it pays to over-pack!

Our bathroom was equipped with a bidet (“buh-day” is how we pronounced it).  Now, I knew what it was and how it’s used, though I’ve personally never used one, but my daughter didn’t.  She couldn’t believe it when I explained it to her.  As we got situated in our room and I changed into dry clothes, we giggled all the while as we relived the hilarity of our recent death-defying elevator adventure, luggage fiasco and the whole bidet discovery.  At one point, I chuckled so hard that an air biscuit was released into the air.  Disgustedly, my daughter demands, “You’re sleeping on the other bed!!”  I retorted, “I’ve been farting all day and you haven’t smelled anything!”  She said, “Yes, I did!  I thought it was your breath!  Do they have Tic Tacs for butts?!!”  She’s so fun!

Despite the near constant rain and having to wear our plastic rain ponchos everywhere, we had a nice boat ride to Venice the next day.  Venice is very, very crowded.  We had lunch at a lovely quaint Italian restaurant we’d found while walking through a narrow alleyway lined with various shops.  There were fine white linen tablecloths and napkins, and water was served in pretty stemmed glasses.  Seated at the table next to us were two young men and a young woman.  I enjoyed hearing their conversation in Italian, though I understood none of it, and watching the young woman talk with her hands as Italians are notorious for doing.  At one point, the young woman and I met each other’s eyes and I gave her a friendly smile.  My smile was reciprocated by a stone-cold, emotionless gaze.  Okay, I thought.  Back to my lasagna.  In Italy,  waiters/servers do not automatically bring your check to you near the end of your meal.  You must ask, no matter how long you stay seated at your table.  Italians don’t rush through meals like Americans often do.  They are to be relaxed, enjoyed and thoroughly experienced, even if all you order is a cup of coffee.  There are no to-go cups.  There is no carrying around disposable cups of coffee in Italy.  You sit down, relax and take your time as you enjoy your beverage.  We’re on Italian time now, Sven.  When we finished our meal, I asked our waiter for the check.  He nodded and went about his work.  Minutes later, afraid we were about to miss our next scheduled group attraction, I asked another server if we may get our check.  He immediately delivered the message to our waiter who immediately looked at us with a perturbed, scowling expression on his face.  How do you say, “I’m very sorry for appearing rude.  It’s just that we have a schedule to keep on our tour” in flawless Italian? 

We somehow managed to miss the gondola ride through Venice, but, I wasn’t too thrilled about riding around in an uncovered boat through the pouring rain anyway.  Nevertheless, we walked up and down the peers to see if we could acquire a ride on our own and we found several options.  But 80 euros — each?  Nah, we’ll pass.  Maybe next time.  Ironically, our day in Venice, which Amber called “Monsoon Day,” was the rainiest day of our entire trip and the only day that she put on sunscreen.

We entered the Dogea Palace with no idea what we’d find inside.  It was our free time and not part of a guided tour.  We walked around a few hallways, saw some sculptures and thought, is this it?  This is all there is to — a palace??  Well, turns out, there was A LOT more to this palace once we made a few more turns and it could easily fill a city block, or twelve.  Somewhere along our meandering through it, we decided we’d had enough and wanted to get a cappuccino or something.  (There seems to be a lot of coffee and wine consumption on this trip.  Hmm, so be it.)  Okay, which way is exit to this mother?  Umm…we’ll try to follow the arrow signs.  Apparently, those arrow signs were taking us deeper into the palace instead of leading us out of it and we ended up in the dungeon.  Okay, so we’ll backtrack a bit and find the way out.  Yeah, right!  Turn after turn, down this hallway and that hallway, passing countless tourists, sometimes so fast their hair blew in the breeze created by whizzing past them, we find ourselves in the prison located beneath the palace.  You gotta be kidding me!  The halls were getting more narrow and I was getting hotter and hotter as the air seemed to become thicker and thicker with our every step.  HOW THE HELL DO WE GET OUT OF THIS PALACE?! We would pass tiny windows and pause to look outside at our ever-elusive freedom, I’d take pictures, then we’d regain the strength to motor through another hallway to who knows where.  I’m on the brink of losing it when we finally locate the gift shop.  The exit has to be near the gift shop. That’s where they always are, you know, so you’ll buy something before you make your departure.  No more palaces/castles for me, thanks.  Well, so I thought.

The rain finally stopped just as we were about to leave Venice.  We had a lengthy walk to the boat dock and had to cross a narrow foot bridge in a very crowded area.  There were people crossing it, standing on it, blocking every conceivable passageway we could have taken.  Well, we had a boat to catch and even though we were on “Italian time” and it is much more relaxed, the boat was still on German time.  So, I basically forced my way through the standstill crowd and a woman turns around and cusses at me in maybe 12 languages.  I just looked at her and said, “You’ll be okay,” and kept walking.  They may not let me back in this country. 

The next day, we stopped in Como, Italy before making our way to Lucern Switzerland and the Swiss Alps (a dream of mine for decades).  We had lunch at an outdoor cafe and I ordered a veggie pizza.  Being low-carb keto, I scraped the toppings off with my fork and left the crust.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see and feel the woman next to me sneering straight down her nose at time or two.  Perhaps it was an insult to Italians if you don’t eat the pizza in its entirety.  My apologies, Italy.  After lunch, we walked through the city and spotted a gelato shop.  Nick was a bad influence.  We were studying the various flavors offered by this quaint Italian shop and we had a question or two, you know, not knowing how to read Italian.  The fella behind the counter was immediately annoyed, scooped out two random flavors on little sample spoons and shoved them towards our faces saying, “Here!  Try pistachio!!!  At this point, I was getting the distinct impression that those folks who lived in Venice were tired of tourists, or Americans, or humans in general.  We ordered our gelato and continued on our merry way through Como. 

It was a long bus ride through gorgeous country from Italy to Switzerland.  We drove past vineyard after vineyard and picturesque towns built into the hills.  We arrived at the hotel Ybrigerhof in Unteriberg just before suppertime.  It was a lodge type hotel set in the base of the Swiss mountains.  There were no other businesses around it, no gas stations, no convenience stores, just some houses built all the way up the hills that had smoke gently billowing from their chimneys floating straight up towards the clouds.  I marveled at one house that was five stories high. 

Once settled in our room, I soon discovered that none of the devices in my multi-pack of voltage adaptors wouldn’t work in this hotel.  Apparently, Switzerland has its own unique outlet.  Thankfully, our tour leader had the right adaptor and agreed to charge up my camera batteries over night.  The thought of being in Switzerland without my Canon camera was completely unfathomable.

This hotel/lodge was a one-man show.  The owner was a super industrious Turkish man with dark brown eyes and black hair, probably in his late 40’s, who was quite handsome, and oh so charming.  He handled the check-ins, the cooking, much of the serving and running the bar later in the evening.  I only saw one other person help him, a woman who helped serve food in the dining room.  I suppose she helped with room cleaning, etc., at least I hope he had help with that aspect of running a lodge. 

Along with our supper that evening, we were given complimentary wine, one bottle per 4 people.  We were talking with some of our tour mates, one of whom was from New Orleans.  She told us that she had survived the devastation of Katrina, but lost every picture she had of her dearly departed mother.  After she shared this with us, I got up from my seat and walked over to give her a hug.  When I sat back down, Amber asked if I was okay.  I said, “I can’t imagine not having a picture of my mother,” then began sobbing.  Must’ve been the wine.  Before we left the dining room, the Turkish man, who was immediately enamored with my daughter gave her his “favorite” cork screw as a gift.  European men just love her!!

The next morning, it was time to realize my longtime dreams of going up the Swiss Alps!!  It had rained for most of our trip up to this point, but we had high hopes that it would stop on the day we got to see the Alps.  Alas, it did not.  It rained continually, and was snowing when we got to the top of that mountain.  The 90-minute boat ride and the long tram ride up to the top of the mountain were both fun and we saw actual, real live mountain goats!  Amber and I went out on the observation deck in the blowing snow, and walked through some tunneled pathways out there, too.  I held my blue rain poncho up and let the blustery wind try to pull it out of my hands.  We could not see anything but white in every direction, but I imagined how it must look on a clear day and it was still a wonderful experience.  We will definitely have to go back again and take in that magnificent view.  The tram ride back down the mountain was amazing.  I sat on the floor in the very front, which was top-to-bottom glass, right beside Sven.  We enjoyed this front row view as the town slowly came into focus through the rain and snow and by the time we reached the station, the rain had completely stopped.  We simply didn’t get to spend enough time in the gorgeous, mountainous countries of Austria and Switzerland. 

Before heading to France, we spent a day in Heidelberg, Germany.  This is where we enjoyed our truly authentic German meal which included wiener schnitzel, white spargel (asparagus), and for me, a warm beer.  A serving of beer over there is much bigger than in the U.S.  I mean, the mug holds about a liter of beer!  I never thought I’d like warm beer, but I really didn’t mind it.  It was actually delicious, although I have no plans to drink my American beer at that temperature in the future.  It wasn’t easy, but I made sure I finished that mega-mug of beer, too.  Heidelberg is another place I would love to return to and spend more time.

On to France!!  We spent a few hours in Strasbourg, visited another castle/palace, without getting lost in a dungeon prison or missing our bus, and walked through the picturesque city lined with sidewalk cafes, street artists and such incredible architecture, with me snapping pictures at every opportunity.  This place must be where movies are filmed.  The entire area looked like an intricately designed movie set.  Stunning!  Next up, the mega-fast train ride from Strasbourg to Paris.  This train station looked like a gigantic spaceship.  If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to Google an image and check it out.  Of course, we had to pay to use the restroom in this bustling train station.  This one was the most unique, for sure.  To enter, you had to purchase a ticket and walk through a turnstile which was very much like those in subway stations.  Pretty cool.  We had heard that the train traveled at an incredible speed, and it sure did.  I think it was going like 180 mph.  I was startled with the loud whoosh sound created every time a train going the opposite direction would zoom past us. 

The rain completely stopped, at long last, and it was a delightfully sunny day in Paris!!  We gathered our luggage and exited the train.  At this point, the wheels on my large suitcase had shed every bit of their retread and were riding on the rims.  Thankfully, this meant that the clunk clunk clunk that followed me through Europe had been replaced by a smooth ride. 

Of course our tour bus took us right to the Eiffel Tower, then later that night we toured around the city by boat as the sun was setting.  Amber and I sat on the deck at the front of this boat with our incredible tour guide, Sven.  Later, he would call me his “Kentucky momma,” and Amber his “Kentucky sister.”  Their birthdates are only two days apart.  Such awe-inspiring sights and sounds as we cruised around the city, seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the distance and the fire damaged cathedral of Notre Dame.  There were many bridges and whenever we would go under one Sven would lead us in a whooping and hollering chorus, which we were to perform just as loudly as we could muster, while people on those bridges and river banks echoed it back to us.  Too fun!

Sven, the awesome tour guide that he was, wanted us to experience all that we could on this tour and led us back to the Eiffel Tower that night so we could see the twinkle lights display that occurred 11:00 p.m. nightly.  We followed his speed-walking through the subways, navigating the bustling streets of Paris and up about 150 steps to reach our destination.  It truly was a great place to view the twinkling tower.  He said that we’d watch it for a few minutes, then would head back to the hotel. It was a busy day and we were all tired.  You know me, wanting to get the absolute best locale for my pics/videos, I spotted a bicycle rack that extends out toward the tower.  With my goal in sight, I purposefully walked toward it and tripped over a peddler’s display of mini Eiffel Tower replicas that he had arranged on a blanket, knocking several of them over.  He screams at me, “Madam!  Madam!!!!”  I said, “I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!” and kept walking towards my picture and video location.  No one was in front of me.  There was nothing to obstruct my view.  It was perfect.  I was the only one out there, which made me wonder if this was a no-no and was a restricted area.  No matter.  I took a look behind me, just to be sure where the rest of the group was before I started my video.  All present.  Once the twinkling started, I was mesmerized and got lost in it.  I’m in freaking Paris, France watching the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower!  Wow!!  I was recording the event on my camera as well as my cellphone and before I knew it, several minutes had gone by.  I stopped the videos, turned around to locate the group again, and saw no one!  WHAT?  Right there!  That’s where we were supposed to meet to head back!  That’s where they were before the twinkle lights started!  Maybe they walked a little bit over this way?  I make my way out of the bike racks, being careful not to trip over any displays this time, and look over towards the steps that lead out of this place and start walking in that direction.  I could not find the group.  They must have already headed back towards the subway.  I take off walking, going down the many, many steps, cross the busy 5-way intersection and was headed towards the subway station.  I was getting a lil frantic because I couldn’t even remember the name of our hotel, you know, just in case I decided to hail a cab.  Then, I thought I should check to see where everyone went, so I sent a “Where is everyone?” message on the WhatsApp.  A fellow tour mate  responded, “We’re at the meeting place.”  I asked, “Where is that?”  They answered, “Where you tripped over the sales display.”  Oooooh!!  I guess there were witnesses to that.  I swear I did not see one familiar face after making my videos.  Not one.  Once again, I cross the busy 5-way intersection, trek up the many, many steps, and find my tour mates all right there where they said they’d been the whole time.  Did they just play a masterful practical joke on me?

While in Paris, Amber and I enjoyed one very unusual meal.  We wanted to try something different/authentically French for our lunch.  But, since we could not read a word on the menu, we chose an entree from the featured pictures and decided to share the meal.  It was some kind of meat and cheese atop a piece of bread similar to ciabatta and there was a sunny-side-up egg as well, along with french fries and a small salad.  Assuming we were eating some true French food, I tried to guess what kind of meat we were eating.  It was extremely tender and amazingly delicious.  I thought it was likely lamb, but I really didn’t want to know what we were eating since ingesting a baby animal has never been on my bucket list.  Amber thought it was duck.  Finding out what animal we were eating was not possible without asking the waiter.  I still didn’t want to know, but Amber asked him anyway.  “It’s tuna,” he said.  Turns out it was a kosher French meal.  So, If you know of such a restaurant in Kentucky, please let me know.  I’d love to partake of that tuna meal again.

FYI:  France has the best butter I have ever eaten!!  It is truly incredible.  And, Paris has the busiest subway system I have ever experienced.  But, first I must tell you a story.  My daughter and I were making our way through a New York City subway terminal to catch our next train, but, for some unknown reason, we decided to take the elevator up to our next subway ride instead of the stairway (which was right beside the elevator) as we’d been doing for the exercise benefit, of course.  Now, this elevator was pretty small and a large number of people quickly piled into it.  I was in the corner near the door, up against the wall and my daughter was just in front of the now closed door.  As I stood there, I could feel someone beside me, very close, and just slightly behind my left shoulder.  Subtly, I turned my head a tiny bit to find an odd, quirky man with his eyes uncomfortably close to my chin.  Okay…it’s just an elevator ride, we should be out of here very soon, I hoped. 

I was staring a hole into the side of Amber’s head in hopes that she’d make eye contact with me so I could say, “HELP ME!” with my eyes (just like she had done during the encounter with the hair-flopping French man).  I could tell she was fully aware of my predicament from the sheepish grin on her face.  Try as I might, however, I could not get her to look at me.  This guy was sooooo close to me, I could feel my hair being pulled into his nostrils with his every breath!  I could not move.  I’d turn just a tiny bit to look at him and then I’d look back at Amber who was now visibly tickled over this situation.  Amber and I locked eyes for a whole millisecond and we both attempted to suppress our laughter.  Breathe hair into nostrils, exhale hair from nostrils.  Someone open the elevator door already, I wanted to scream!  When the elevator finally opened, I was shaking with soundless laughter, unable to speak.

Now, back to riding the subway in Paris.  New York City’s subway experience is nothing compared to the one in Paris!  Nothing!!  On one trip, we were jam-packed in the car so tightly, like sardines as the saying goes, that I could feel another human being pressed up against every angle of my body.  I said, “I think we’re engaged.”  It was literally becoming difficult to breathe as my lungs were being squeezed.  I was starting to sweat and was thinking this is how it ends — on a crowded subway car in Paris.  Just as I could feel the panic bubbling up inside me, I looked at Amber who was also looking at me, likely wondering how long I could endure this full body mammogram without completely losing my shit.  Once we caught each other’s gaze, we were both instantaneously transported back to the NYC subway with the hair-snorting quirky dude and we started laughing, which quickly grew into uncontrollable can’t-catch-your-breath laughter for me.  I suppose it was laugh or pass out, you know, that whole fight for flight thing.  Let’s try laughing first.  Tears were soaking my face then dripping off cheeks and other passengers were beginning to stare.  Is this woman laughing or having an emotional meltdown over there? Yes!  As this continued, a few of the other passengers started laughing along with us.  I suppose it was quite a funny sight.  There is generally not a lot of laughter on subways.  Or conversation.  Or eye contact between strangers.  In the midst of my hysteria, a fine young fellow said to me, “There is more room over there,” eyeballing and nodding toward the other side of the car where people were standing — all with a comfortable amount of space between them.  Being called out, they all reluctantly scooted a bit closer together so that we sardines could enjoy our full lung capacity once again.  Wasn’t that so sweet of those nice people?

During another fulfilled subway ride in gay Paris, there were two handsome young men and a beautiful woman standing near us, holding on to the rails.  One of the men clearly did not speak English very well and asked the other man to speak to me on his behalf.  This man leaned toward me and said, with a very heavy French accent, “He would like a drink of your water,” and nodded towards the bottle of water I held in my hand.  With a bit of trepidation and hesitancy, I slowly handed my water to the dehydrated fella who requested it.  He removed the cap, took a large gulp, replaced the cap and then politely handed the bottle back to me while nodding his head and smiling with gratitude.  Yeah, some weird stuff happens in Paris!

I truly enjoyed riding the subways in New York City.  I enjoyed them in Paris as well, despite having my lungs nearly deflated on the very crowded cars.  But, from now on, when I enter a subway station I will hear Sven’s voice shouting, “Take care for your belongings, guys” and, “Guys?!  Take care for your belongings,” with that Arnold Swarzeneggar accent as we heard every time we traveled by train. 

In the USA, the French have often been portrayed as cowards, running away from conflicts, surrendering, etc.  It’s even mentioned in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean when it was asked who invented “parlay,” the word used by pirates to evade their impending death upon their being captured.  I certainly did not see that type of demeanor in France.  We were on a guided tour through a palace (yes, another one) in Paris led by a 100% French woman who was extremely proud of her heritage.  She repeatedly boasted, “French is best,” throughout the tour.  As we progressed through the palace, if our very proud French tour guide found that you were not looking in her direction as she spoke, she would make it a point to bring you back.  “Eyes on me,” she’d shout to the group as she pointed to herself with both hands.  Heaven forbid you look around the room at the amazing art displayed on every wall.  She demanded that other tour groups allow space between theirs and hers and she even shushed a very large room full of tourists (men, women and children alike) and other guided tours, demanding that they not be so loud as it was causing her to talk extremely loud so we would hear her.  Wow!

This dictatorial…ahem, guided tour ended around noon and we were led to a quaint cafe where we were told to line up and collect our lunch.  Our meal had, apparently, been pre-ordered for us in order to save time and get us back on the bus as expeditiously as possible.  What delicacy did we get?  A hot ham and cheese sandwich on plain white bread.  I’m not a historian or anything, but I really doubt that a ham and cheese sandwich is any kind of authentic French meal.  I asked, “Who ordered this for us?”  “The tour guide,” a fellow tourer answered.  “Well, then, she should eat it,” I responded.

I’ve really got to work on speaking my mind more freely. Several times during this eventful, fun-filled trip, my daughter would try to pawn me off on other people, be it fellow tourists or strangers, didn’t matter.  She’d ask them, “Will you babysit her for a while?”  Or, “Do you need a new friend?”  But, I think my favorite one is, “Isn’t she fun??” 

After we’d finished our delicious hot ham and cheese, authentic French sandwiches, I noticed that my shoes seemed a bit looser.  I thought that’s great, my feet aren’t as swollen today.  Cool.  I also noticed that my shoes seemed dirtier than I’d remembered from the night before.  I assumed that I’d gotten them dirty during the evening boat ride through Paris.  No biggie.  But, there’s a small hole in the mesh now, too.  Well, we are doing a lot of walking.  Makes sense.  Then, my daughter asks, “Do your shoes feel…big?”  “Yeah, they do!”  “I think you’re wearing mine.”  Yup!!  Sure was!  We had purchased identical shoes months before our trip and had put on each other’s that morning. 

An added adventure to our tour of Paris was the catacombs.  I opted out of that one, not because the site of millions of skulls and bones would freak me out, I could’ve touched them all without flinching.  No, it was the thought of the underground, narrow passageways and the possibility of me not being able to see in front of or behind me due to large numbers of people — that’s  what freaked me out — being trapped.  I must’ve been buried alive in a prior life — that would explain it.  While Amber went on the bone tour along with my camera to chronicle her experience, I enjoyed a snack and glass of wine with two other non-joiners at a lovely outdoor cafe.  We had a good time and great conversation while people-watching on that busy Paris street.    

On our last day in France, and Europe, we visited the Louvre Museum and saw the world famous Mona Lisa painting.  The museum was in the process of renovating and this painting was in a large room with only a few other works of art.  My daughter and I were both surprised at how small this painting truly is, about 2.5 feet by 2 feet. It was displayed on a large wall, protected behind thick glass and perimeter ropes designed to keep the hundreds of tourists several feet away from it.  We managed to make our way through the crowd and up to the ropes, snapped some photos along with some selfies with Mona and continued on through the museum. 

Then, just like that, it was time to head back to the USA.  The seats on the flight from Paris to Atlanta were great!  They had a lot more leg room.  I wondered why we couldn’t have had a similar plane on the way to Munich.  Nevertheless, I was feeling relaxed and confident that this flight would be nothing but pleasant.  Well, with our European tour being anything but dull, we couldn’t stop now, could we?  We were almost to Atlanta when we heard the announcement, “Is there medical personnel or a doctor on this flight?”  What?  Really?  It was like something out of a movie.  I’m a nurse, but I don’t advertise it.  My daughter, on the other hand, who feels quite differently, raises up from her seat, points to me and shouts, “She’s a nurse!!!”  Thanks, Amber, I say via my most disapproving facial expression.  The male flight attendant who was standing in the aisle near my seat asked me, “Can you deliver babies?”  I quickly responded, “I’m out!”  He was joking, of course, and sent me toward the front of the plane to offer my assistance.  I walked as quickly as I could to see what I could do to help.  There was another nurse on board (possibly outed by her daughter, too) already tending to a female flight attendant who was sitting just outside the cockpit.  She had fallen and hit her head acquiring a small cut in her hairline which was bleeding a little bit.  She seemed to be much more emotionally traumatized than physically injured.  The first trauma nurse at the gruesomely bloody scene was taking good care of the injured woman, but I hung around for a little while to reassure the emotionally rattled flight attendant that she would be okay as paramedics had been called to stand by while the plane landed at the busy Atlanta airport.  I rubbed her shoulder, gave her a hug and she thanked me before I headed back to my seat.  A standing ovation of coach passengers was waiting for me back there!  What?!  Am I a hero now?  No, I’m just kidding.  All I got was a bunch of “What happened” questions from those who needed to hear the details surrounding this riveting in-flight drama.  Our short flight from Atlanta to Louisville was pleasant, with no drama or incidents.  Ahhh, that was nice.  What an eventful trip we had!

Now, what’s my take on this once in a lifetime European tour?  Firstly, the great thing about group tours is that they are group tours.  All the planning, ticketing, hotels, certain meals, tourist attractions, and such is all taken care of for you.  All you have to do is pack your stuff, grab your passport and show up.  It’s fantastic!  You meet new people and come home with new friendships, although most are via Facebook.  Secondly, the worst thing about group tours, is that they are group tours.  Unless you want to fork out your own money for transportation instead of partaking of what is already provided and go your own way, you will go wherever and whenever the scheduled tour takes you, which occasionally includes a city tour where you remain on the bus (not so good), as well as endure the various unplanned mishaps and hiccups.  Personally, I am not a big crowd type person, at all, and when our tour started, it was quite large.  I want to say there were 66 people.  There’s a lot of herding required with a group that big.  However, when we went to Paris, that number was greatly reduced as not everyone opted to go on to France.  It was a much more comfortable and relaxing tour.  Bottom line, I would definitely sign up for another group tour, albeit a smaller one next time.

I wore my iWatch throughout our tour to track my steps and we walked a grand total 64.28 miles while in Europe.  Going on a tour led by Sven is like having your own personal trainer.  My stamina was greatly improved, that’s for sure.  Plus, I lost 3 pounds even though I was not 100% true to keto in my food selections.

Although I’ve poked a lot of fun at this our once in a lifetime trip to Europe, I did truly enjoy it!  My favorite places remain Austria and Switzerland.  The breathtaking mountains, the clean city sidewalks, the friendly people.  Everyone we encountered were very kind to us.  Did I mention the mountains?  So very lovely.  We certainly learned a lot about different customs and cultures, and the hundreds of photographs I took will be treasured for many years to come.

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