Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back At It....

Well, we made it back, safe and sound, from our European trip. The shot to the left is Hubby and me in Italy. The cathedral dome in the background is not the Duomo, but rather it is part of Spirto Santo, the church that was near our apartment in Florence.

I'm still basking in the "after vacation glow", but Hubby unfortunately got back in to the "grind of work" mindset pretty quickly. It is Sunday and he actually had to go in to work today to try to unravel an emergency situation. Bleah.

I finally got my tush in to the pool on Friday and swam 500 yards. A mere portion of my summer workouts, but you have to start some where. Felt very good to be back in the water.

Yesterday I met Dori for a run -- my first since the marathon. She is getting ready to run the Big Sur 1/2 marathon a week from today and wanted to do 10 miles. I told her I'd give it my best and tagged along with her. I made the whole 10 miles but only because Dori was there with me pulling me along. It was great being out on the trails again and running with a good friend.

This week my plan is to get back in to the swing of things again with eating better and getting back in to a workout routine. I'm not in training-mode right now. The only things planned for the rest of the year are a few 5Ks, but I would like to use this time to try to get back in to lifting weights, yoga, swimming, spinning and running. Hubby is committed to working out twice a week, so hopefully we'll be able to get fit together.

I'm attempting to post a few photos from our trip. We have a new MAC and the routine to post things is a little different from doing it with a PC.

This shot is of one of the canals in Amsterdam. We loved just wandering the streets along the canals watching the water, checking out the houses, bicycles and people.

This shot above is the outside of a wonder fruit and vegetable market near our apartment in Paris. The food is set up "just so". When we took some clementines from the bin, the shopkeeper scolded us: "No! We get them for you so as to not upset the display. It is all about the presentation!"

Bern, Switzerland got its name because when it was founded in 1191, there were lots of bears living near the territory. (Bern means bear). Nowadays, the bears are out of the city, but you can go feed them at the bearpits. We didn't have a chance to do that, but did find many statues of bears in a park near the river. Here is me hugging one of them. (You know me, always a friend to the animals).

Now that I've got this "photo posting" thing down, watch for more photos to come!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fini -- (almost)

We are back in Amsterdam, spending our last night at a really lovely small hotel called The Bridge. The hotel overlooks the Amstel River and our room faces the river. Very nice people, very cute room and reception and free candy in the candy jar. Who can beat that???

We left Florence last night after spending most of the day with my brother, sister-in-law and niece. We had one last meal together and then sat at the palazzo Publico watching the world go by. One last quick stop for some fun gifts and mementos and then my brother walked with us over to the train station so we could start the journey back.

We went from Florence to Milan, arriving at 10:00 pm. The train station is sort of dumpy and the neighborhood a bit questionable. However, we did find a grocery store for some water and a little pizza place near the station. We ordered a pizza and ate it at the station, while we waited for the overnight train back to Paris.

The train car that we were in lost electricity (!) in the cabins after we got underway. No big problem, since we were supposed to be sleeping -- but Hubby and I opened up the shade and watched the Italian country-side go by). Getting dressed in the morning in the dark (before sunrise) was somewhat more challenging, but we managed.

One last pain du chocolat (yummy) and then on to the train to go back to Amsterdam. We arrived at the hotel, freshened up and then took a very long walk around the city. We both really like Amsterdam. We figured that it must have some thing to do with all the canals and being near water.

On the way to dinner, we found a really cute little bistro and there was a CAT sitting on the floor near the entrance. I've seen a ton of dogs over here, but very few cats (inside windows or out on the streets). This cat was very friendly and I finally got a little bit of a "kitty fix" by petting its head and rubbing its ears.

We finally found a restaurant for us to share our last meal here and are now wrapping every thing up so we can have a smooth travel day tomorrow.

Hard to believe that after about 12-hours of travel tomorrow (excluding customs or weather delays), we'll be back in the States, in our little home with the cats and the kids and our family and friends.

C'est la vie.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"If you've seen one fat cherub....."

The title of today's post is dedicated to my younger sister, BooBoo. If she reads this post, she'll know what it means...

Our last full day in Florence today was mostly spent NOT in Florence. My brother and sister-in-law took us to a couple of the small towns/cities near here: San Gimignano and Sienna.

San Gimigano became an free municipality in 1199. Yes, 1199. There was a great (very old) church there with some phenomonal frescos that line the entire inside of the building. The town is very small and quaint, but was jammed with lots of tourists.

Sienna was, for us, a much more interesting and fabulous place than San Gimigano. Sienna was originally a Roman colony that grew and florished during the 1400s, becoming quite a powerful place before the Black Plague took out about 70% of its population.

The city is much smaller than Florence and the streets are so narrow, they don't even have side walks. Because of that, not too many cars brave the city streets and there are none of the buzzing scooters that careen up the streets in Florence.

We went to some of the most historical sites, including their Duomo (cathedral) and the Hosptial of Santa Maria della Scalla, which was the actual "sick room" that started in the 13th century.

Hubby, my brother and I all like the Duomo in Sienna more than the Duomo in Florence. Much more beautifully laid out, beautiful mosiacs and tiled scenes created as part of the floors; several naves each with their own personality. Just lovely.

We treated our tour guides (brother and sister-in-law) to a really great lunch that was off the main drag a bit. Hubby and sister-in-law split a huge Tuscan steak, I had sausage and white beans in a tomato sauce, my brother had grilled chicken breasts. This was AFTER the first course of pasta and the APPETIZERS of brushetta and chicken livers. (Hope the plane can make weight adjustments when we fly home!)

After lunch we went to a great cheese and salami shop that is owned by a friend of my brother's. We were able to taste some really delicious things and spend some time with the owner. He is a very fascinating man. He owns the cheese shop and a really great antique shop full of really different and wonderful things (manuscripts from the 1800s, old irons from that same era, old postal scales, walking canes, trunks and bread making kitchen tables, etc.) All very intriguing.

We were supposed to go out for dinner, but everyone was still full from lunch so we parted ways after getting back in to Florence. Hubby and I strolled the city for a while and are now getting ready to get packed up for our departure tomorrow.

We'll sleep in a little and then pack up. My neice will join her parents here tomorrow, so we'll have a chance to see her before we have to get on the train again.

We leave Florence in the early evening and go to Milan, then take the overnight train to Paris and then another train to Amsterdam. We are in Amsterdam for less than 24-hours and will then fly back to the states.

All in all, we've had just a wonderful trip. We've got lots of photos to share (once we are back in the states with all the right equipment) and lots of pounds to lose. I'm also missing my cats in a very big way, so I'm very excited to see them again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

David -- what a hunk

Our second full day in Florence is winding down. We've certainly lucked out with the weather. It's been sunny and warm during the day. Much better than the snow I hear is falling in Minneapolis.

Florence is very interesting. Small in square footage, but buzzing (literally) with the hum of thousands of scooters zipping through the very narrow streets. Some people have cars, but the preferred method of transportation seems to be scooters and walking. There are some tour buses that pass by and Hubby and I have stopped to watch them try to navigate down the narrow passage ways. Sometimes we make "bets" to see if the bus will actually make it past the row of cars or scooters without taking out a sideview mirror or a pedestrian. So far it is buses 10; cars/pedestrians 0.

We woke up a little later than we had wanted so we had to rush to get to the Galleria dell'Accademia to make our 10:00 reservation. We bought tickets to both the Galleria and the Uffizi from Select Italy prior to leaving the states. The tickets cost us a bit more money but were well worth it because having tickets in hand means not waiting in the very, very long lines to get in to see the exhibits.

The General Ticket line at the Galleria was already down the street and around the block by the time we got there. The line for people who already had reservations was about 1/8th as long. It only took us about 10 minutes to get in the door of the museum. I highly recommend getting paying the premium and getting the tickets before anyone visits Florence.

We made an immediate bee-line to see David. Unbelievable. Seeing the statue in-person was really something. Photos in books or any reproduction really does not serve it justice. The detail is amazing all the way from the veins in his arms, to the detail around the elbow that is supporting his right hand, which is resting on his right shoulder holding the sling, to the details on his hands and feet -- incredible.

We spent a long time looking at the statue taking it all in. We then backtracked the museum a bit to see some of Michelangelo's unfishined sculptures that line the entry way leading to the statue of David. They were also very interesting. You can see the detail of how the scuptures are "born" -- chisel marks and chip marks that outline the beginning of the emergence of a person. We could almost "feel" the person trying to emerge out of the stone. Very, very amazing.

The rest of the museum is of works from the late 13th century. Many interesting frescos and paintings -- all of religious nature. A section of the museum houses old (and I mean OLD) instruments: cellos, violins (including a couple made by Stradivarius in the 1600s), hurlygurlys, dulicimers, harpsicords and the first clarinets. Way cool. (geeze, you'd think that, as an English major, I could come up with some sort of adjective that was more descriptive than COOL).

In any event:

After leaving the Galleria (and walking past the General Ticket line, which now stretched and snaked around the block...), we made our way to the Duomo.

Again, unbelievable. So much detail to see in the stone carvings on the Cathedral. Hubby and I took many, many picutres. The sunlight played with the green, white and pink marble that makes up the building. We are hoping for some very good prints (once we can get them done and posted). We went inside the Cathedral and took more photos of the incredible works of art.

After we wrapped up there, we met my brother and sister-in-law for a lunch at one of their favorite resturants. Then they took us through some other of their favorite streets, pointing out some great buildings (and all the history as to WHY they are great). We took a tour of the Pallazo Medici Ricardi house. Hard to believe that a family could live in such a place.

After visiting the Pallazo, we parted ways with my brother and sister-in-law. Hubby and I wandered the streets back slowly, enjoying the scenery and a gelato (yum).

We are going to have a low-key night. We shopped at some of the local markets and are going to make a fun dinner at our apartment. We may wander out for a bit after that, or decide to put our tired feet up for the evening to rest up for tomorrow's adventure at the Uffizi.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

In Florence -- safe and sound (with tickets!)

We got on the overnight train in Bern at 10:39 and arrived in Florence about 7:30 this morning. We had a sleeper car, which was small but very comfy for the two of us. (The car could accommodate 3, but we reserved the whole car for us. I could not imagine having three people in the space, but...must work!)

Sleeping on the train wasn't too bad. We did get some good rest although once we got to our apartment at about 1:00 pm, we both took a well needed nap.

Our apartment wasn't ready until early afternoon, so we wandered the streets and got coffee and a pastry. It is really beautiful here and different from any of the other countries. Streets are VERY narrow and buildings are VERY tall. Lots of little winding streets and scooters.

We found the Old Bridge, walked over to the museum area and then it was time to turn around and get situated at our place.

We stopped at a couple of markets to pick up some flat crackers (baked by a baker, not from a box), some delicious ham and cheese, a few tomatoes and a bit of fruit.

Our apartment is really wonderful. Huge rooms (bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and salon) on the second floor of the building. Even has a washing machine. After a week of travel, that is a god-send.

We'll be heading out again shortly to explore and to hopefully to make plans to connect with my brother, who is also here with his wife.

The apartment has internet access (free, between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm), so I'll catch up on posting in a bit.

ciào for now.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Switzerland = Lost

Not a huge post here -- our day is winding to a fast end here in Switzerland.

Started great on the train ride through France. Unbelieveably beautiful scenery, especially getting close to the Alps.

Got to Lusanne and had our first encounter with the lovely bathrooms. We didn't have to pay money but paid in other ways. Good thing I'm a runner and used to portapotties.

Train to Bern went smoothly and efficiently. (The Swiss are nothing if not efficient). However, Miss Organized somehow left the envelope with all of our train tickets and Europass ON THE TRAIN that went on to Zurich.

Panic city.

Friendly Swiss Rail guy sent an efficent email to the conductor on the train, who found the tickets and we made an unplanned trip to Zurich today to retrieve them.


Zurich was fantastic; got back to Bern in enough time to enjoy this picture-postcard city. Getting ready to hop another train to Italy. Will be there by breakfast.

Hubby had his beloved sausage and sauerkraut in Zurich today. He looked incredibly happy and content enjoying lunch.

At least he got a "reward" for my forgetfulness, although he is not letting me hold on to the tickets for awhile.....

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Adieu Parie

Our last night in Paris...after a rough start (getting so twisted around that first night while walking to and from the tourist office), we've fallen in love with the city and are sad to leave tomorrow.

We overslept yesterday and decided to not go to another museum (thereby avoiding the long queques). Instead, we walked to Notre Dame, which was truly impressive. Unfortunately, the lines were too long for our patience levels to actually get in to the Cathedral, but we did spend a lot of time outside on the grounds taking lots of pictures and taking in the beauty of the Seine, the buildings and people watching. It is very interesting to evasedrop here. Not that we could decipher many conversations -- English is rare and mostly spoken by Brits and Irish. Spanish, Russian, Italian, Polish and, of course, French conversations surround us every where we go. It is really interesting to us to listen and observe.

The day was beautiful -- partly cloudy and in the 60's -- so we decided to take the
"short cut" to the Effel Tower. I don't care what any guide book tells you, Paris is very walkable and you do a lot of walking because if you aren't familiar with the city, you get lost -- A LOT. We were very happy, however, to see that we were not the only tourists (of any language type) that had to pull the map out about a dozen times.

Our walk took us through many different areas, all with their own charm. We went through chic shopping areas to lovely residential to interesting business centres.

Finally we got to the grounds of the Tower. Wow! Beautiful park and then the Tower itself -- really very impressive. By the time we got there, the sun was beginning to set and the crowds of people had "thinned", meaning the lines to go to the top of the Tower averaged only 1-plus hours, so again, we skipped it. We sat underneath the Tower and took in the crowds, which included our first (and only so far) encounter with the infamous gypsies.

A number of tiny Bosnian women scan the crowds and go up to anyone they think speak English. One approached us and asked if we spoke English. Foolish me said "yes" and she held up a piece of paper with a bunch of stuff scribbled on it. Immediately, my hand went to my purse and I told her "No". She backed away pretty quick. We were approached again twice by other women using the same m.o.. Each time the woman asked us about English, we said "no". That pretty much took care of the problem.

After the Effel Tower, we went back to the Arc d'Triomphe and went up to the top Observation Platform (no line to get to that...). It was after dark and the view was unbelievable. We took lots of photos, including a couple of us complete with the full Parisian moon above us.

We took the Metro back to our neighborhood and had a nice relaxing dinner at a cafe. Great day.

Today, I made sure to get up early so we could hit the markets that are a block from our apartment. We bought a rosted chicken, fresh bread, fresh Gouda and Brie cheeses, some fruit and cherry tomatoes, which we had for dinner at the apartment tonight. It was great fun to shop at all the little markets and to be able to pick out such fresh and flavorful products.

I almost hate to admit this, because we are loving the espressos that we have every day, but I also found a Starbucks and got one of my beloved Venti coffees. That, honestly, was terrific. (Dori, if you are reading this post, I'm wondering if the 1-800 Starbucks locator works in Europe too (LOL))

We did get to Musee Dorsee today and the Impressionist art was wonderful. I liked Van Gogh and Monet the best. I was also able to "payback" Hubby a little bit for making me spend hours at the Louve looking at all that Egyptian stuff. He is not that hot on the Impressionist movement but he was a trooper and hung in there with me.

After the museum, we spent a long time in the gardens outside the Louvre just people watching and taking it all in. We stopped at a Cafe along the way home for a leisurely and delicious lunch and then sat out in the square near our apartment.

All in all, another great day in Paris.

We leave tomorrow afternoon for Switzerland.

We miss some of our routine, certainly our friends, family and cats (and, of course, our giant cups of coffee) but we are both really having a great time on our trip.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Ohh La La!

Greetings from Paris!

Hubby and I are sitting in an Internet Cafe, trying to figure out how to use a French keyboard-- the good old QWERTY board does not work.

So far the trip is going well. Amsterdam was great. Everything they say is true. Great walking city with plenty of bikes to dodge. The streets follow the canals and round the city in a circular motion. Therefore, we only got "lost" twice. Fortunately, lost is relative in Amsterdam. The city is small, so eventually you get where you wanted to be.

We went to the Anne Frank Huis -- very interesting, also to the Red Light District. Even MORE interesting... Ate a wonderful Argentinean dinner; had great coffee. The people were very nice and friendly.

The train ride to Paris was amazing. Service was spectacular -- got fed not once but twice, with food that was very good indeed. We went through the Hauge, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels on our way to Paris.

Good news -- arrived on time; bad news -- arrived during rush hour. Over 2 million people apparently used the Gare du Nord station to get home. Chaotic and exciting.

Found the apartment -- very quaint on a great street with an open market and good bakeries.

Tried to get to the Tourism office to buy Museum tickets but got hopelessly lost going there and, after getting there and being told it was too late in the day to buy them, on the way back. That was a bit frustrating: maps didn't jive, streets twisted and we wandered much more than we wanted to. But, we finally made it back and had a lovely dinner at the restaurant near our apartment. All was well.

I'm turning over the keys to Hubby so he can tell you about today...

Today was the day for the Louvre. It is quite hard to describe all of the world's finest pieces of art in one place. Unbelievable and Fantastic just don't do it. Amy's tolerance for ancient artifacts was put to the test. I am happy to report that she passed...

We started our tour of the Louvre by making a bee-line for the Mona Lisa. The crowd was just starting to gather in the lobby of the museum and luckily we beat the rush. This painting is absolutely amazing, no pictures or posters can prepare you for how this masterpiece looks up close. Not only the eyes follow you around the room when looking at it, but the mouth changes from an odd smirk to a smile and then back again as you move from side to side. DaVinci was incredibleé.

One of the most interesting items we saw in the antiquities section was the collection of tools dating back 200,000 years.

7 1/2 hours later, we felt satisfied that we finally saw half of the collection, oh well we have to go back!

Now Amy will tell of our adventure strolling down the Champs-Elysées.

We had a great walk through the gardens, to the Concorde Plaza, through the park leading up to the Champs (including sharing a snack of crepe de chocolat and banana along with a great version of the good old hot dog...)

We got to the Arc de Triomphe -- took great photos, which we can't upload yet (wrong size port) and then had a real dinner at a cute overpriced place in the Champs.

Some very nice locals helped us with directions to this internet cafe, so after dinner; we took the Metro to an area close to our apartment and are winding down our day here. Phew.

Tomorrow: the museum D'Orsay, the Effel Tower and a much cheaper dinner in this neighborhood!

Are we having fun?

Oui, sure youbetcha :)

P.S. KLM rocks. More about that later.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia....

Twin Cities Marathon is over and the results are on the books.

I finished -- not in stellar form, certainly not with a PR (personal record), but finished none the less.

It was much hotter than normal last Sunday. The afternoon temps hit the low 80s -- and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. These were very different conditions than we had been training in over the last few (and muy important) long runs.

Hubby dropped me off at the Metrodome at about 7:15. I had just enough time to get in line for the portapotties and then line up in the corral for the start of the race at 8:00 am.

I lined up with the group running with the Cliff Shot Pacer aiming for a 5:30 finish. Met the pacer -- met a couple of folks running in her group and then turned to see Marcia and Cheryl, my training partners. They were getting some last minute encouragement from our Coach, Sarah.

We all wanted to run with the pacer, but her plan was to run and take walk breaks during the waterstops. We had trained using a rhythm of six minutes walking and one minute of walking. The first water stop at TCM wasn't until mile 2.5. Given our pace, we were not scheduled to reach that point until about 24 minutes in to the race. We didn't feel comfortable changing our routine, so we decided to stick with our plan but to try to keep the pacer in site.

Marcia and I ended up running together slightly ahead of the pacer. (Actually, we were about 3 minutes ahead of her for more than half the marathon.) We felt great -- were enjoying the large crowds, the really beautiful fall leaves on the trees and scenery along the parkway, meeting new friends along the way.

Many of our friends were out watching the event and cheering us on. We saw our running friends Katie and AmyK near Lake Harriet. Not too far from them was another running friend, Bev, although the look on her face was not so encouraging. A few steps later we found out why.

There was a man in his late 40s that was laying on the pavement. Medics were around him -- one man was performing CPR; another was using the breathing bag trying to revive him. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain. The man was rushed to the hospital, but passed away of an apparent heart attack.

He had been an avid runner with no history of problems. According to the paper, he and his son were running the marathon. His son went ahead of him and then his dad had his attack. The son didn't find out what happened until after he passed the finish line. Very tragic...

Seeing the man on the sidewalk certainly changed the mood of those of us running. We all got very quiet and I'm sure a few of us sent up a prayer or two. And yet, we all kept moving forward.

My good friend Mary found us a couple times on the course: near Calhoun and then along Minnehaha Parkway. Marcia's son was out there for us; she saw some women from her book club, and we found a couple other friends, including Angel and Carla (our Ironwomen friends).

Our good friend Dori found us right after that first water stop. She had her trusty camera with her and snapped a couple of pics. She also met us right before the course crossed over from Minneapolis to St. Paul. She was like god-send out there. She had ice, gels, and great words of encouragement.

Hubby found us several times along the route: near Calhoun, before Minnehaha Falls -- all times I was feeling pretty dang good.

About mile 15, I started to lose it mentally. The weather caught up with me; the sun was draining and I could not keep my mo-jo. That AND I had to find a restroom. I told Marcia to go on ahead of me and that I'd try to catch her.

That was pretty much the last time I saw her until the finish line.

Not long after leaving Marcia, Cheryl passed me by looking very strong. Not long after Cheryl passed me, that 5:30 pacer passed me. Drat.

I keep going, although I really could not get a good rhythm back.

Usually I have a bad patch or two during marathons, but I'm able to get it back. Not this time. I just kept cursing and considering dropping out. But, pretty much every time I was going to pull out, I'd look up ahead, and there would be Hubby -- ringing the cowbell, giving me a "high five", and encouraging me to move on.

I did.

Slowly but surely, I made my way through St. Paul to the Capital. I DID cross that finish line, at 5:57:49. Very sucky time.

My coach was waiting for me at the finish. I crossed the line, got my metal, saw her and just burst in to tears. I was SOOOO disappointed in my inability to make my goal time of 5:30. She was very kind to me -- and that helped, although truth be told, I am disappointed that I continually have "Race Day" issues that cause me to not perform well. I can train like the dickens, but I tend to choke during the big events.

Anyway, I did finish -- about 10 minutes or so after Marcia did; about 15 minutes after Cheryl and about 30 minutes after our other training partner, Mary.

I would have never made it without the help and encouragement of Hubby and my friends out there yesterday -- and certainly would never have been able to do it without my great training partners.

So it all starts with Marcia. If she hadn't had a milestone birthday and got that hair-brained idea that it would be "great" to run a marathon for her birthday, I wouldn't have signed up, trained, run the race or had CAKE at the end to help celebrate her b-day.

Dori sent me a picture of all of us at the finish -- The folks in the photo include Marcia, Cheryl and me, along with Marcia's husband and our other friend Nat, who both ran the 10 Miler earlier that day. I'm in the grey.

(Hubby took a bunch more photos that I will post eventually. He is in the middle of the "last minute panic" of trying to get ready to leave on our big adventure tomorrow. I best not bug him now to have him teach me how to upload those....)

In any event, here's to you, Marcia. Congrats on your 1st victory taiming the 26.2 mile beast!