Thursday, May 30, 2013

Personal Style

Did you ever have your colours done? Long ago, in the eighties, I had very dark hair, fair skin and blue-green-grey eyes. According to Carole Jackson's Colour Me Beautiful book, I was a winter. Certainly, I wore strong colour and black and white well.
Dark-haired with Grandma. This was a favourite dress circa 1986.

About five years ago,  when I attended some sessions with a personal stylist, I was draped and found to be an autumn. My formerly dark hair has been many different warm reddish hues and I have eyes that change colour. Like water, they seem to reflect the colours and light around them. My skin colour seems to be warmer than when I was younger.
Prague 2013. No doubt, I'm an autumn.
When I was younger, black and white were a dramatic part of my wardrobe. Today, I look like an extra from a Greek tragedy in black. A rich chocolate brown and creme are my go-to colours.  You will find cayenne, cinnamon, orange, khaki, aubergine and every shade of brown in my closet. Have you noticed that different colours suit you now that you are d'un certain âge?

In my later fifties and early sixties, my body proportions really changed. "Really?" you say.  Originally, I was a pear: narrow shoulders and back, small bust and waist with heavier legs. Like many younger women, I didn't much like my shape. When, occasionally I was slender, my narrow shoulders and small bust made me look tiny, almost shrunken. Shoulder pads were my friends. There can be no denying that those with bigger busts and/or longer legs always attracted the attention across the room.

In my later years, the stylist declared me a cello which is similar to an hourglass. She is slightly off because my bust is bigger than my hips and my shoulders are still not broad. My waist is about 10" smaller than my bust and I am definitely under 5'4". It's funny though, at 61years of age, I am more comfortable with my body that I was at 35. Ironically, the bust caught up just when everyone else was getting reduction. At this age, an ample bust just means that you need to buy Prima Donna or Empreinte bras. I have been a walker all of my life so although I am not tall, I notice that the length of my legs is just right and that they are firm with trim ankles. I am great at the leg press and legs in straps at the gym. The part of me, my legs, that I liked least when I was younger is now the my favourite part.

Isn't it tragic that women fail to accept their own attributes until they have reached "a certain age".  I would like to lose weight for health reasons (blood pressure and diabetes are serious threats at this age) but I am quite comfortable with myself. That means that I do my best with what I have and generally approve of the results. Sometimes, when I look in a mirror or at a photo, I wince but day to day, I'm generally satisfied. When I consider my brothers or my husband, I can not imagine them paying so much attention to personal style. Neither hair loss, weight gain or shorter stature detracts from the fact that they are all interesting, successful, fit men.  "We've come a long way, baby." But I fear, we have a long way to go.
A cello in Paris with piano.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Outdoor Adventures

Monsieur and I have enjoyed a lot of outdoor recreational vacations together. We have spent time in  coastal and interior campsites. We have camped  in tents, yurts and the back of a small Mazda pickup truck. Once we backpacked along the Hoh River on the Olympic Penninsula.
Humbug Mountain, Oregon.

Our travels have taken us from Cortes Island in British Columbia to Mount Lassen in Northern California. Monsieur prefers uncrowded campsites which often involve pit toilets and bears with an occasional rattlesnake warning in central Washington state. Nothing in my girlhood travel experiences could have prepared me for my rugged adventures with Monsieur.

Our first camping experience together was in 1988 at the second Stein Valley Festival. Monsieur and his friend, Jim, had a group called Arbutus. Jim had written a song for the event which was held near the Stein Valley, a forested native site that was threatened by logging. Monsieur and Jim were to share the stage with Gordon Lightfoot, Colin James, Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn and an array of other environmentalist musicians. We purchased a new little backpack tent (which we were to use for the next 20 years), a one burner stove, and our organic provisions and set off for the Festival which was being held on a very hot August long week-end.
The tent is still with us.

The organizers, who had sold festival passes, had not anticipated the popularity of this second Stein Festival. The big name performers, the enthusiasm for environmental conservation and some eagerness for fun and flakiness drew many times more campers than the facilities could accommodate. Long lines for porta-potties and too many tents in too little space made for uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions. Monsieur, who is less cautious than I, left the cooler on the ground beside the tent and all of our carefully chosen organic food was stolen.

But we did survive  our first outdoor adventure together. Monsieur and Jim did have a brief moment on stage at the Festival. I heard Gordon Lightfoot sing The Canadian Railroad Trilogy under the stars. Most important, we are still together  twenty-five years later and will be sharing more outdoor adventures this summer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Friends and Flowers

Sunday, I attended my neighbourhood church for the first time in several weeks. I was not a regular church-goer until  after my retirement. When I was working, I did not want to a regularly scheduled activity on Sunday. I started to attend church with a friend and found that my mood was lifted by the singing, the sermon and the fellowship. I have not officially joined the church because I feel that I am not ready. Going before a congregation and making the commitment is like getting married.

Before I went to Europe, I joined a small group of people from the church to discuss the ideas that were introduced in the weekly sermons. Through group discussion, I have got to know some of the church members better. After church, there is tea and coffee and a pocket garden market where you can buy fresh produce and flowers in support of the homeless. I met a friend who was going to visit Victoria with her sister from London and I guided her to the Hostess' blog on tea in the Abkhazi gardens. By coincidence, she had just finished reading Paris, a Love Story by Kati Marton.There is usually a lightness in my step when I walk home through the neighbourhood after church.

I stopped at the flower store on my way home and made up a bouquet of lupins, delphiniums and orange gerbera daisies. I like to go into the cooler and choose my own flowers. The florist trims the stems for me and I carry my bouquet home feeling on top of the world. It's funny how some pleasant routines make all the difference in one's outlook.

Since my return, I have been careful to commit to a regime of yogurt, fresh fruit, salad, chicken or fish. I have been drinking sparkling water as an alternative to wine. As I don't drink soda with meals and I usually only have a cup of coffee with frothed milk in the morning, beverage choice is a conundrum for me. Wine is a beverage that enhances a meal and makes eating the simplest fare seem like a small celebration.

Today, I will be meeting one of my friends for a walk. As we haven't seen each other for almost 3 months, we will have lots to talk about. After our walk, we like to sit in the galleria of our library/cultural centre and visit. My friend, who has made the decision to go carless, then walks home.
There is a book club starting this morning but I probably can't make it this week. I have wanted to find a book club for a long time as I enjoy sharing ideas and impressions of books.

For me, in retirement, it is critical to interact with other people. Monsieur, Maman and darling daughter are very important to me but when I am at home, I visit with friends almost daily. A reflective practise,  a healthy lifestyle, friends and flowers are the best form of mood- enhancement.
The peonies at my local flower seller are as lovely as those in Paris.
A blog that I enjoy every morning with my coffee that Monsieur serves with frothed milk is Paris Breakfasts. Artist Carol Gillott's watercolours of Paris life and her enjoyment of the Aimée Leduc mysteries keep Paris alive on a drizzly West Coast day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Four Months of Blogging or Why I Write

Castles in the air?
Every person who writes, writes for a different reason. Since I was young, I have written poetry, journals, press releases and nonfiction. I have taken courses in nonfiction and travel writing. I have never followed up with proposal letters, drafts and all that is involved in the business of writing. I abandon journals after a short time and most of my poetry was written during the years of my alienated youth.

I started this blog when my father died.  As a woman in her seventh decade, the decline and loss of a parent is to be expected. There were so many feelings to deal with: my own mortality, loss, family issues, and new directions in my mother's life. Was I a good enough daughter? In the old order, the sons and heirs had a special position of honour. I am not as effusive as my sister. Did he know that I loved him? Through writing, I have become a bit clearer on some of these issues and through reading other people's blogs and comments, I have come to understand that I am not alone in my doubts and insecurities.

Our lives for the most part are like Venn diagrams. There is always an intersection of personal and shared experience. It is impossible to write of my feelings and experiences without sometimes involving others. We can handle the intersection as delicately and kindly as we can but, as in life,  sometimes there are misunderstandings.

I love beauty in art, travel, fashion, flowers, and home décor. Blogs have become my new magazines and I value the opportunity to provide feedback to those who have worked hard to create them. But, for various reasons, I don't want to limit myself to these topics. In my seventh decade, I am accepting my own issues of insecurity and alienation as normal and intrinsic parts of who I am.

Janet in Montmartre
A loving thanks to Janet who reads my blog with her heart and knows when I need her emotional support.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What are you reading for the rest of your life?

 Painting in a window in Montparnasse.
I am again awake at 3:30 in the morning but my periods of sleep are getting longer. I have been home two full days dealing with family, retirement, and books. Yesterday, I sorted through four large boxes of my parents' books. Some were very old and some appeared to have never been read. Throwing books in a bin on a street corner is not acceptable to me. Dampness and mold will destroy any value that the books may have to somebody else. Monsieur and I have both worked in libraries where people have donated "old smellies".  A polite "thank-you" and a late  night visit to the dumpster is the usual course of action.

I actually love handling books. Some of these old books had faint pencil numbers that I wrote when I was a little girl playing library. Some of these books bore the names of strangers, some dated back to the early 20th century. Mum had written names and dates in some of these books but on checking publication dates, I found that she was not always accurate.

In my teen girl years, I read a lot of historical fiction. Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Norah Lofts (who by the way were the same person), Mazo de la Roche, Frances Parkinson Keyes... My love of history was fostered by those authors whose works provided a rich world for a timid and repressed teen.

In about 1968, when I was sixteen, I became aware that my country, Canada, was developing its own cultural identity and literature. During this period, I devoured the New Canadian Literature series. Rudy  Wiebe, Frederick Philip Grove, Hugh MacLennan and Margaret Laurence were some of my favourite authors of the time. They depicted Mennonite life on the prairies, the struggles between English and French in Québec and the lives of women in Ontario, Manitoba and Vancouver. I made a decision to try to read a much of my nation's literature as possible.

This decision pretty much coincided with the adoption of bilingualism and biculturalism as official policy of Canada. The policy struck a note with a slightly alienated young woman who treasured her few drops of French-Canadian blood. You can not ignore Anne Hébert, Gabrielle Roy, Marie-Claire Blais, Michel Tremblay or Yves Beauchemin if you are going to understand French Canada. These authors achieved distinction throughout the world. I decided that it was essential, as a student of Canadian literature, to read in French.

When I was twenty years old, I made the decision that university was not where I wanted to be. I found family life restrictive and I wanted to experience the "real world. I did not require official certification as a reader as I had been one for all of my life. With the arrogance of my twenty years, I created my own syllabus. Although I was a very well-read file clerk, I decided that I did not want to become a very old well-read file clerk.

Yesterday, I dealt with father's life in books. In some ways, my own tastes resemble his. I handled the well-thumbed books and the unread coffee table books. My dad loved knowledge for its own sake. When I was very little, he taught me the Prime Ministers of Canada. We both could be a bit pedantic. Until his death, he remembered most of his Latin and often reminded us of the fact. I kept his copy of Virgil from his high school days. Sometimes, he was the only person who had any clue what I was talking about. My last conversation with him was over the telephone when I told him about visiting the spot where Captain Cook had observed the Transit of Venus. Dad loved sea stories and war stories. I suspect, he had a lot of the adventurer in him.

I sorted the books into boxes, inking out names and dates and memories. It made me very sad that my father's literary journey had come to an end and that no one but me wanted to share it. I will call up a former colleague who is a member of Friends of the Library and offer the more interesting books for the Book Sale.

In my storage are my own boxes which contain mostly the books from years as a student of literature.
My daughter,who struggles with print, does not share my interest and Monsieur ( who does not whine) is grumbling about storage again. In the last two years, I have given up my work identity and watched the decline and death of my father. I have always believed that a personal library is the chronicle of a life. When the time is right, I know that I will be able to revisit my own stories and to release them. But I know for sure that now is not the time!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Home and Awake or The Parachute Bursts

It's always interesting to come home after being away for a couple of months. Monsieur and darling daughter met me at the airport. My flight home was very comfortable as I traded some points for Business Class nonstop on Lufthansa. Flat bed seats, amenity kits and a quiet area of the plane make for a more relaxed arrival. After the three of us had a light dinner, Monsieur and I returned to the a freshly cleaned apartment with lovely white freesias in a vase on the table. Monsieur is probably a better housekeeper than I am.

After going to bed at 10:00, I awoke to find that it was only 12:27. I played fun trivia, I read blogs, I researched articles on Canadian and German urban planning. Materfamilias suggested that  I read Straphanger by Taras Grescoe. I visited his website for about an hour. And then it happened!. My computer needed plugging in and I realized that my European two prong plug does not work In Canada. I sent my other plugs home with Janet in April. I could not charge my computer. After all my online diversion, it was only 3:17 a.m. I had no choice but to roll over and go to sleep.

Two hours later, Monsieur and I are both up. He's used to having the apartment to himself and now that I am home, his day to day routine will change. He is working on a music project and some strata council issues. He has lined up quite a few gigs during the summer so practise and planning will be a part of his regime. I empty my small suitcase and hang up my clothes. I have laundered and hand washed as I have gone along so this takes just a little time. Unfortunately, since I have gone away, we have lost a storage locker and gained 4 Rubbermaids of books from my mother. There is nowhere to put the suitcases.

As I am a book person, much of my life is centred on story. Church windows tell me the stories of the saints. The tales of the Hapsburgs and of the composers have filled my days in Central Europe. My mother has many books, some dating back more than seventy years, and I am appalled at the thought of them going into a dumpster (recycling or not). I have spent a major part of my life developing and weeding library collections. This is my area of professional expertise and as a retired person, sometimes we just need the acknowledgement of our skills. I will be going through the books and trying to find suitable homes for as many as possible.

 At long last, it is 7:00, I can phone Maman. Except Maman is much less than enthusiastic about seeing me because she is preoccupied with her move to an apartment and has still not severed her ties to her former home. Besides, I forgot, this is Wednesday, day of the sacrosanct lunch with my youngest brother. Insecure adult children with siblings can all probably relate to the dynamics of family. I am the eldest, born shortly (8.5 months after my parents' marriage) and joined 14 months later by a baby brother. My sister is 4.5 years younger and my youngest brother joined the family 9 year after me. Thus, my moment in the sun was brief and I was too young to have been aware of it.

Maman suggests that she will call me after her lunch and that we will make a trip to the "old place".   So now, I have six hours to kill. It is already 2:00 in the afternoon Europe time and I hit the wall midafternoon wherever I am. As most of my friends still work, I call a couple of retirees but reach their voice mail.  How do you handle jet lag (travel letdown)? My mother claims that it doesn't exist but the sadness that I feel is real. Much of my time since my dad died in January has been spent planning, anticipating and enjoying my travels and the ending has been abrupt.

My approach to feelings and unmet needs is "name them and claim them." This may sound narcissistic but once we can get these sentiments out, we can acknowledge that  they are transitory and will evaporate into the air in a short time. But, I am still left with the problem of a pleasant diversion to help me through the transition day. By this time I have had only spasmodic sleep for the last 48 hours and I have not taken my medication.

I decide to cook a Hungarian dish for dinner and to call my daughter to go for lunch. We live near a pleasant fishing village where we enjoy lunch together whenever daughter has a day off. Shopping for a few groceries and a nice salad help me to feel happier. Finally, it is time to visit Maman but it is already 10:00p.m. European time.

My mother is sad about her losses. She doesn't want a "new life" and she is a very different person from me. She has moved into an apartment complex that is called "The Village" She lives across the street from a library branch and 100 metres from a boardwalk on the river.  At the Seniors' Centre across the street, there is restorative yoga, tai chi and all the company that she might wish for. She seems to be fixated on moving small inconsequential items from place to place rather than moving herself forward. She claims that she doesn't need to walk outside because "she gets plenty of exercise walking the halls and doing bullwork".  My hopes for my mum are that she will enjoy walking to buy fresh bread and vegetables,  attending Music at the Cannery, and reading on her enormous terrace by the river. I must have her mixed up with my "dream mum". She will always miss Dad but, at 81, every new day counts. We have words!

I enjoy travel by myself because basically I can avoid other peoples' issues. I can care for others but I don't have to become enmeshed. At times of stress, in enmeshed family systems, unkind words are often said. As far away as I have been in distance, I have still heard "who helped", "who didn't help",
"who wants what", "who doesn't want what" and the story varies depending on who tells it. According to Family Systems Theory,

The basic relationship patterns result in family tensions coming to rest in certain parts of the family. The more anxiety one person or one relationship absorbs, the less other people must absorb. This means that some family members maintain their functioning at the expense of others. People do not want to hurt each other, but when anxiety chronically dictates behavior, someone usually suffers for it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nine Weeks

Do you remember the gnome from Amélie?
It is nine weeks since I left home. I have visited six countries, many towns, countless museums, churches and art galleries. I have shared my time with my friend, my cousin and my sister and spent some time alone. I visited my old Rue St. Jacques neighbourhood where I will probably stay next year and I have experienced two other Paris apartments. I have sailed down the Danube and travelled to London by Eurostar twice. Today, I returned to my hotel room mid  afternoon and I am a little weary of travel and a little wary of going home.

It seems like a long time since my sprained ankle in sleety London and my Audience with the Queen (aka Helen Mirren).
On my first day in Paris, I met the "poules" from Toulouse.They look like ducklings to me.
Janet and I travelled to Bayeux to see the Tapestry and the Canadian Memorial at Juno Beach.
This is where the Canadians landed on D-Day.
I renewed last year's acquaintances with my professor Mildred at Reid Hall and with Aurélie at the restaurant.

I stayed in a former monastery in Prague.

The view from my window.
I had a sister adventure cruise on the Danube,
Mum says that we are drinking in all our pictures. That's because we ask the waiter to take them.

Now I am going home.
I love this character.

Frey Wille

Remember the beautiful boots in Paris that I didn't buy.

Oh! so lovely!

During this trip, I gave myself permission to buy one thing that was truly extravagant and my purchase was my Frey Wille bracelet. It won't get worn out like the boots. One day lovely daughter will get it because lovely sister wants the Art Deco necklace that I bought in Prague. My bracelet can be worn with most of my spring and summer clothes and I just might have to visit Vienna again to buy a winter bracelet (although there is a Frey Wille store in Vancouver now).
Frey Wille bracelet. Photo by Photobooth. 

Some have pearls, diamonds, purses or scarves. I have Frey Wille. What would your most extravagant purchase be? I will be visiting Visible Monday with my new friend.

My friend, Janet, sent me a lovely link to Castle Crown and Cottages. There is a link up of sites celebrating France and happiness. I especially like the song "Qu' est-ce qu'on attend pour être heureux?".  I might make it my new theme song. Here is another version that I found on YouTube.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Tale of Two Suburbs

A doorway on Nymphenburger Strasse
My last address is the Hotel Nymphenburg in Neuhausen, an outlying area of Munich. Hotel Nymphenburg is a budget hotel so I will not compare it with my Sofitel experience. The price is one fifth that of Budapest. Today, I walked around Neuhausen which is a green, leafy suburb of Munich.
The sidewalks are divided to allow for cyclists and pedestrians of all ages. Today is Sunday so everyone is walking or cycling.

A fun statue in a platz.
In my three hours of walking, I passed shops, hairdressers, a hospital, many small parks and a huge public garden. Trams and buses passed me and every couple of blocks was an Underground station transporting commuters to downtown Munich. Each apartment complex had a green space with clothes lines and bicycle parking.
Berry bushes have been planted around the bike racks.
In Canada, I do not enjoy suburban life. Monsieur and I chose to buy an apartment in which to spend our senior years. Our apartment is large and surrounded by green space. It is possible to be a gardening volunteer, to play bridge or to go to Aquasize within our development. Some people put a card on their door at night and remove it in the morning to indicate that all is well. This Monday, Monsieur will be entertaining at the opening of our outside pool.

Unfortunately, the larger community plan is not so pleasant. Our street is much like a speedway with no protected bicycle lane. Last year, after my return from Paris, I bought a nice "girl" bike but I am afraid to ride it. While I was walking today, I passed many different sorts of restaurants. I ate in a Bavarian one, of course, but I had many choices. At home, KFC, A&W, Little Caesar's Pizza are across the street. I could have a coffee in the Starbuck's in Safeway if I wanted to but I don't. My grocery choices are limited compared to those in this German suburb where every other store is "Bio". Germany seems to abound in massage, naturopathy and healthy products.

 As schools and kindergartens are built within the Neuhausen neighbourhood, mothers walk their little ones to school. Traffic cones and parking issues play no role in the school life of this community. I passed many small parks where families were playing together. On a long week-end, only hotels and some restaurants are open. A visit to the mall is not a family outing.

One other thing that I noticed is that ground cover is used here more than grass lawns and public spaces  looked a little untended by our standards but I think that this is probably more environmentally friendly.
Statues of musicians decorated this building
I liked the sunflowers on this building.

What it comes down to is urban planning and regulation. My parents bought half an acre of land in 1953. We lived in a little house until they could afford to build their new home. After the births of three children in four and a half years, our family moved into our new pink split-level. Our new house was small by today's standards with lots of flowers, vegetables and a field to play in. That house was demolished after about 25 years and apartments were built. Those apartments 30 years later are not considered very desirable and population density has changed considerably. They will probably be replaced with towers in the near future. 

What we need for a healthy lifestyle is a walkable neighbourhood where most of our social, cultural
and retail needs can be met. After spending time in different countries of Europe, it seems to me that my own community has a long way to go.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Budapest Sculptures

Budapest is a city of sculptures, both playful and mournful. Today, on my last walking day in Budapest, I encountered a few of them.

Isn't she lovely?
Our hotel is located on the Danube Promenade on the Pest side of the river. The promenade was built in 1867 but was devastated during World War Two. In our neighbourhood of luxury hotels,  the walkway has been rebuilt.
There are many dog owners like this in Budapest.

On January 8, 1945, a fascist Arrow Cross execution squad emptied a building of Jewish people and forced them to remove their shoes at the riverbank. As they were shot, their bodies fell into the Danube.
This memorial was erected in their memory in April 2005.
On each leaf of the Memorial Tree in the courtyard of the Donany Street synagogue  is the name of a Shoah victim.
The Hungarian people were oppressed first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.

Public art is everywhere in Budapest and I do want to learn more about this city.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sunrise on the Danube

It is almost time to go home and I find that I am waking earlier each morning. We didn't close the curtains last night and my sister slept with her head at the foot of the bed so that she could fully appreciate the beauty of the night lights. The yellow street cars are passing by outside as the occasional taxi makes its way to pick up passengers for early morning flights. A single angler has put a line in the water just beside a Viking riverboat. Paris is just two weeks ago yet it seems like another life.
View from my window at 6:00 a.m.

Materfamilias wrote a couple of posts ago about her anticipatory anxiety at leaving for her upcoming trip. I am feeling the same about returning home. My European life is so different from my life in the Canadian suburb where I was raised and have lived for more than fifty years. I have family, friends and of course, Monsieur and my darling daughter at home but with all of these ties come responsibilities and
expectations. In Europe, I decide in what park I would like  to walk or sit, what site I would like to visit or not, what new food I would like to  taste.  If I just want to be alone with my book or my blog, solitude is readily available. I know enough people in Paris that I am able to visit as much as I want and on the riverboat there were plenty of companionable passengers.

My sister and I have different rhythms. I wake really early and, as anyone who travels with me will soon find out, get really tired mid afternoon. The siesta time (my quiet, alone time) is essential to me. When I am alone, I seldom go out in  the evening, preferring to  read or watch a quiet movie on my computer. I don't feel as though I need to see every sight in a city to fully appreciate it. If I love the place, I will make sure to come back to see more. Places are a lot like people. There are those that are the loves of my life (Paris and Monsieur), those that I would like to learn more about (Budapest, Vienna and a few people) and those with whom I can spend some pleasant time but will probably not see again (Passau, Melk, Regensburg and most fellow travellers).

Just as we acknowledge that there are different shapes and sizes of women and that they are all special and lovely, we are born with different temperaments which continue to develop with our experiences of life. I am introspective, slightly hesitant  and often unsure. Sometimes I think that I tire myself with my own thoughts. My sister, on the other hand, is extroverted and gregarious. We only left the riverboat yesterday and she has already sent e-mails and photos to our shipboard friends. She literally goes each until she drops. As far as I am concerned, the best course for us is to each pursue our own interests and to come together to share them each day.

Monsieur has been pursuing his own interests since I have been away and that  always causes me a little apprehension. What if he really enjoyed my absence? He probably did! But I enjoyed my  solitary travels. That is just the way of our relationship. Monsieur has been working on music and golf. He will be playing at Make Music Vancouver  in June. Years ago, someone remarked to me that he/she was surprised that I had married because I was so independent. That was during my first marriage and the assessment proved to be accurate. With more life experience, we come to know ourselves better and hopefully to become more aware of our needs in any relationship. For the the unsure introvert, that is difficult. The Danube angler, who has caught nothing, is packing up his little stool and his fishing rod. I wonder if he ever catches anything or if he is just an early morning riser out for his daily ritual.

Beautiful Budapest!

We have reached our cruising destination, Budapest. The sun is shining on the spires and castles of this beautiful city. Last night, our captain took us for an illuminated tour on the river. The reflections of golden-lit bridges and buildings shimmered on the Danube.
Budapest is truly like a fairyland.
We bade our farewells to our newfound friends and exchanged e-mails. Some passengers were leaving the boat for the airport at 3:45 a.m. As we are spending a few days here, we were last to leave the boat at about 10:00 a.m. Our destination:the Sofitel. We could not believe the price of this hotel when the agent booked it! I don't like to pay exorbitant hotel rates because I use very few of the facilities, preferring to eat in a market or bring my own bottle of wine to the room. BUT, we have a Danube view room. We are in Pest, looking across the river to the hill of Buda. We will drink our wine in our room and gaze once more on the Romantic Danube.
Spires and domes everywhere

I did not bring a large enough suitcase. I am still carrying my winter clothes from the early snowy days and I have acquired a few new clothes and some gifts. This morning, I walked around for a few hours with my fully loaded bag. Sister wanted to go further but once tired, I like a change of pace. We decided to go our separate ways. As I was wandering in a pedestrian zone, I noticed a promising looking Hungarian restaurant Sorforras Etterem. I lunched on duck with cabbage strudel, roasted apple and Pilsenner Urquell. This bill was only 4200f which is less than 20 euros.

I bought a few gifts for my darling daughter who has a Hungarian grandfather and would like to visit here one day and returned to the bright comfy hotel room to read and write. Is anyone else reading Edward Rutherfurd's Paris? I'm not a big fan of his books but I am interested in French history so I'm giving it a try. My sister just returned with a bottle of Tokay so we are going to watch the river.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Almost Over!

Today is the last day of our Prague to Budapest cruise. A river cruise is very different from an ocean cruise. Our riverboat, the AMA-Dolce glides easily over the waters of the Danube. Most of our cruising is done at night with daily tours at ports of call. Land tours from our ship are divided into Gentle Walkers, Walkers and Active Walkers. The included tours are just an overview of a city but there are optional tours which are more in-depth.  Visits to destinations like Vienna are frustrating because one day is not nearly enough to fully appreciate the beauty of the the city.
Ceiling of the concert hall.
In Vienna, we paid for two optional tours. We visited Schoenbrunn Palace, the principal residence of the Hapsburgs and The Daun-Kinsky Palace for an evening concert of the works of Mozart and Strauss. The Vienna Residence Orchestra provided music, arias and traditional dance for about 2 hours.
Tours are aimed at the general public. My music teacher friend may not have appreciated the performance as much as my sister and I did but the experience was well worth the money. At Schoenbrunn, my nimble-footed sister climbed to the highest part of the garden to take advantage of photo opportunities while I was interested in reading about the history of the Hapsburg family.

On our river cruise, there are only 145 guests. Sister and I are in the younger group but she managed to find a group of people to hang out with when I wanted "quiet time." We made friends with two elderly widows who were taking their first major trip together without their husbands. A small staff, a single dining venue, and one entertainment option a night make this a convivial voyage.
An onboard toast.

Central European cities are incredible destinations for those who love history, culture and music. Opera houses, theatres, art galleries, grassy city parks, coffee houses and small bars are everywhere! Paris will always be my chosen city but Vienna, Prague and Budapest are very enticing as destinations for further exploration.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day in Melk

Delphiniums in the Melk Church
We spent Mother's Day in the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO world heritage site. We glide by small villages, spired churches, terraced vineyards and an occasional castle perched on some craggy peak. This morning, we had a guided tour of the Benedictine Abbey of Melk.

The original Melk Abbey was built more than 1200 years ago but the current baroque structure was built in the early 18th century. The frescoes, murals and gilt figures are awe-inspiring. The library houses over 100,000 volumes. The monasteries that I have visited in Central Europe were certainly the centres of knowledge in Europe. All along the Danube, we see evidence of a culturally-rich society combined with leafy green forests. My cousin, the Dancing Queen, is doing a bicycle tour here in September. I am sure that late-summer and autumn will be glorious here.

We have been a little unsettled because our mother spent the first night in her new apartment last night. The move was very traumatic for her. After talking to her on Skype, we were a little sad that she was waking up in a strange place on Mother's Day. Monsieur said that he would go over with some flowers
and my daughter is working but will try to have a short visit with her grandma.

We prefer the small villages to the more popular holiday sites. Today, almost all the shops were closed in Melk but we could window shop after we visited the abbey. We saw an Austrian Mother's Day card in the window. Alles Gute zum Muttertag!
Delicate flowers outside a gift shop.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Home of Great Music

The Czech Republic is the home of many great composers. Dvorak and Smetana are probably the most famous. During our stay in Prague, my sister and I attended two different kinds of concerts. The performers in each were accomplished and entertaining.
These ladies were very talented and entertaining.
On the first night of our tour, we visited the U Marancu Restaurant just outside of Prague. As an icebreaker activity, this excursion was successful. My more extroverted sister was up learning to dance the mazurka. The entertainers played traditional music from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. They danced, they sang and they involved the audience in clapping, dancing,  and singing chorus responses.  The energy of the performers was impressive.

A window of the Prague Municipal House
The Prague Municipal House is an excellent example of Art Deco style architecture. We attended a chamber orchestra concert in the lower level of the hall. The group Prague Music provided a concert of Classical Music lasting about an hour. These small inexpensive concerts are a great way to learn about the culture of an area without paying a lot of money.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Visit to the Prague Ghetto

Tuesday, we decided to explore Prague by ourselves rather than to take a group tour. I have always believed that learning about other cultures enriches our lives and teaches us respect for and acceptance of others' beliefs.  When I was teaching, I especially enjoyed reading multicultural stories to children. Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish-born American whose works are translated from Yiddish, adapted traditional Jewish stories for children. My favourite children's book about Prague specifically is The Golem, a picture book by David Wisniewski

We decided that a visit to the Prague Ghetto would be interesting to us. The Jewish settlement in Prague dates from the 11th century. Today, six synagogues, the Old Jewish Cemetery, and a museum can be visited on a single ticket. We were not allowed to take photos except outside in the cemetery. It is ironic that Jewish religious items were stockpiled in Prague to create a museum of an "extinct race."

The Pinkas Synagogue is a memorial to the 80,000 Jewish residents of Bohemia and Moravia who were killed by the Nazis. Both my sister and I were moved by the seemingly endless list of names. Young people, old people, families...Family names and prénoms repeating over and over.

Another heart-wrenching display was the artwork of the children of Terezin, the "model" ghetto. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis taught art to the children while they were awaiting their final deportation. Materfamilias wrote a few days ago about the art of her grand-daughter. The art of these children with their rainbows, flowers and hair bows contrasts with the physical setting of the camp.  Dicker-Brandeis and 550 of the 660 children were killed. Fireflies in the Dark, a book by Susan Goldman Rubin tells the story of the Terezin children.

The visit taught us both a lot about Jewish ritual and ceremony and about the magnitude of the Shoah.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tours or We're Really not Groupies

We're watching the clock in the Old Town Square.
This morning, my sister and I had to join our tour group in the dining area of the Hilton Old Town Prague. I have been pretty much marching to my own drummer since I left home and my sister has spent time every week getting my mum ready to move to her new home, so our needs for personal time are great. We had to line up for breakfast and then we were divided into groups. We are in the "Blue Group".

I have worked in schools for many years so I can appreciate the necessity for organization. I scanned my group looking for a kindred spirit and settled upon a lady who reminds me of my mother. We had a bus tour of the four main areas of Prague, the castle, the Charles Bridge, the Little Town, Wenceslas Square and then we did a walking tour with Renata, our guide. We all followed the blue lollipop like a group of more or less well-behaved children. Our guide was knowledgeable but I would have preferred to have more in-depth visits to fewer sites.

I am good for a few hours of group and a few hours of sightseeing before I get weary. Not physically tired, just weary. I don't want to look at any more Bohemian crystal, garnets or matrushka dolls. Tomorrow, we will not take any tours. I want to visit the Old Synagogue and the ghetto. I don't want to visit Terezenstadt because it would make me too sad. Did anyone read the book Hana's Suitcase, a true story that I read with students when I was teaching? The elderly sisters of Freud were also sent there. We are planning to attend a Mozart concert in the Municipal Hall and see the collection of Muchas posters that are on display from the collection of Ivan Lendl.

My sister is more energetic than I am so we have gone our separate ways for the afternoon. In working out a balance between group and individual activities, we can enjoy this new adventure.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sister Day in Prague

Our view from the Bella Vista Restaurant, Prague
My sister arrived from Madrid on Sunday and was amazed at the beauty of the Strahov area. We went to the Bella Vista Restaurant that overlooks Prague. The restaurant which is about 150 metres from the Hotel Monastery has probably the best view of Prague. We had a Pilsner Urquell beer and goulash and dumplings. We never eat this at home.

This  morning we visited the Library of the monastery which I visited yesterday but I was eager to see it again. Then we walked around the Strahov area which is beautiful. The Loreta Church is spectacular.
We wandered through small shops and ate at a little outdoor restaurant. We lingered over trout, salmon in a lingo berry sauce and salad with some Czech wine.
The wine warmed us a bit.
Then it was time for us to move to our downtown hotel to join our cruise group. It turned out to be the Hilton instead of the Intercontinental as we were told. Our room is characterless and has no view and costs three times as much as the Monastery Hotel. Even wifi costs extra. We may take the tram back to Strahov for sightseeing because so far we find downtown Prague crowded and too touristy.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday in the Strahov Monastery

I  couldn't have found a better place to stay than this little hotel. The Hotel Monastery in Prague is clean and, by European standards, spacious.  I have a sitting area with a desk, coffee making and refrigeration. Breakfast was generous with yogurt, juice, scrambled eggs, cold cuts, cheese, fruit loaves,
rolls, fresh fruit and cereal. I didn't eat all those things but they were available. Someone complained on  
TripAdvisor about the breakfast.  I can't imagine what more they could have wanted. Water and soft drinks are free in the rooms and beers cost almost nothing.
The Czech Lion lives in the monastery walls.
The bells of the monastery do not ring during the night but start again at 6:00am. There was a chirping bird outside my window at 4:00 this morning.  The Strahov Monastery is beautiful by day or night and I can see it through that very window

The Strahov Monastery was founded in 1140AD by the Premonstratensian  Order.  Except for during the Communist regime, it has been an active monastery for all that time. Eighty monks live there today.
I could not visit the Church today because it is Sunday but I visited the gallery of the Monastery where there are more than 1500 paintings by European artists from 1400 to 1900. The paintings, which belong to the Order, are mostly religious in nature. There are several paintings reproduced from prints of Albrecht Durer by his contemporaries. There is also a temporary exhibit in the cloister of work by the Czech artist, Josef Fiala. These paintings, which are not religious, portray rosy-cheeked Czech people in the outdoors.

The Strahov Library is the second oldest Church library in the Czech Republic. The Theological Hall and the Philosophical Hall are decorated with beautiful frescoes and murals. There is a collection of 250,000 volumes. The oldest manuscript dates from 860 AD.
Behind the hotel is a greenspace, walkway to town and a restaurant with a fantastic  view.
I have tried two restaurants within the walls  of the monastery. Velka Klasterni, where I ate last night was very inexpensive. I had pork goulash with horseradish and a Gambrinus beer in a brewery hall with accordian players. The meal  cost less than 10 euros. For lunch, I went to the  Bella Vista restaurant and had a cheese and charcuterie board with a beer. I couldn't eat it all but it was tasty and cost only 15 euros.  They give the price CZK and euros here. Food will probably cost a lot more when we move to the Intercontinental tomorrow. If I had known that this hotel was so charming and that language was not a big problem here, I would have booked 4 days here instead of 2 here and 2 with the cruise group.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Prague Spring!

The view from my hotel room.
Here I am in Prague.  I left rue Cherche-Midi at 10:00 am and got to the hotel at about 5:30. The flight is only 1 hour 20 minutes. A lot of time spent waiting at Charles de Gaulle Airport. But when you're alone, you always meet people. My taxi driver was Algerian and his sisters live in Canada. At the airport, I met Dan and Terri from Bend, Oregon, an area that Monsieur and I have visited during our outdoorsy holidays. We waited and chatted together. 

The Hotel Monastery in Prague is lovely. It is in a walled area of Church, parks, restaurants and cobblestones(the boulder kind). The taxi left me at the entrance to the walled area and I tried to pull my belongings up to the hotel. A nice young man took pity on me and pulled my cases the last bit of the way to the hotel. There's something about a 5'3'' woman pulling 5' of stacked suitcases over cobblestones!

Easyjet is a great little airline. I overestimated the weight of my bags. When you register online, they ask you to pay in advance. They seem very heavy to me so I overpaid. They upgraded my seat and boarded me first. The staff speak English and French and are friendly and efficient. You are allowed only 1 bag including purse in the cabin. But the price is very reasonable for travel within Europe.

It's sunny in Prague and the bells outside my window are calling me to explore my new neighbourhood.


I took this photo for my daughter.
The suitcases are packed (stuffed) and I have 2 hours before the taxi comes. I have made a list of instructions for myself to help me focus. I am travelling alone to a country where I know nothing of the language. I don't speak Czech. My bags seem much heavier than before. Could it be that I am a month weaker? Travelling alone can be stressful. Monsieur has no problem with bags. I am afraid of falling on stairs or escalators when I am toting. You can not leave your bags with anyone at the airport or station especially after Boston. Using a washroom can be an adventure.

I am travelling Easyjet to Prague and have ended up paying more for my bags than my airfare. I don't have a lot but I am in Europe for 9 weeks and the last part is a cruise. I could have brought 3 pairs of pants and three sweaters for Paris. Easyjet was my only choice for a direct flight to Prague. I have no printer so I was unable to print my boarding pass but I'm sure that it will work out.

Last night, the property manager came to go over the apartment. Apparently, I have set some record for low energy consumption. Knowing that I would have to pay European rates at the end of the month has kept me aware. Monsieur and I don't use much energy at home but our heating and hot water are included in our strata fees. I was expecting an immediate refund of my 900 euros but she needs to contact the owner in Italy and he will reimburse me by Paypal. Never again with this agency! If you are renting, try to find a VRBO or an agency that charges no commission to the renter and that does not require a cash deposit. I have usually rented by a teacher-to-teacher network. This has been really informal and basically involved a lot of good faith.

I know very little about the hotel where I am staying tonight and tomorrow except that it was part of a monastery. My sister comes from Madrid tomorrow but we didn't want to pay 360 euros a night for the Prague Intercontinental which is part of the pre-cruise package. It's always easier to pay the extra but you can travel for longer or more often if you can keep your daily rate lower.

Hotel Monastery Prague will be tonight's stopping place and the cost is 140 euros with a choice of hot and cold breakfast items included. Au revoir Paris!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday afternoon, Laure Sokol

Monsieur says that sometimes he finds my blog ridiculous but that's because  he and my brother are probably the only men who read it. Today, I was loving my Parisian self. My friendly aesthetician at Oneto gave me the best facial that I have ever had. Yesterday, she waxed my legs. If you are in Paris, visit her because she is wonderful and not too expensive.

If you are a woman of pulchritude who buys Prima Donna or Empreinte bras, visit Laure Sokol on rue de Sèvres. They have a huge selection of bras up to an H cup at about 30% less than in Canada. Full support bras that are lovely are hard to find. It is so important to feel good about yourself! I always buy my bras in sets with the matching panties. That's so French. No ugly undies.

I visited Sacha Coiffeur at 53 rue Cherche-Midi for un shampooing et un brushing. I feel so light and carefree walking down rue Cherche-Midi with my new lingerie and my freshly styled hair. I feel as though I am 41 not 61. This part of the experience is probably unfathomable to Monsieur and my brother. Oh, I don't know how I'm going to leave. But tomorrow is Prague.

Last Friday in Paris

Well, this is my last full day in Paris. I arrived here on Friday, March 17th.  My guests left and arrived on the same Friday in April that I moved into a new apartment. Friday seems to be significant this year. It seems so long that Janet and I were in London or when The Dancing Queen visited. I am always sad to leave and there is always so much left for my next visit.

I find people in Paris friendly and happy to engage in conversation. Aurélie, who will closing her restaurant at the end of the year, is looking forward to sitting down to lunch with me next year. Mildred is still enjoying teaching Le Cours de la Civilisation française de la Sorbonne although her husband is retired. She will soon be a grandmaman. I will go back to Isabelle pour des cours particuliers (private French classes). Yesterday, I visited the Institut Oneto on Montparnasse to have the same lady wax my legs as last year. She came in early for me today and her soins de visage (facial) is amazing. She uses her fingers on the neck, shoulders and face to massage and gently stimulate the circulation. My face is so smooth right now. I will be returning to her next year as well.
I love this place.
I always learn a few things about daily Paris life every year. All Parisians are not rich and thin. You can easily find clothing whatever your age or size. If you are wearing sizes 42-48 (12-16), you will find clothing in department stores or smaller shops catering to older French women. Rue Saint-Placide is a good street for regular clothing. Do not be a snob and you will find some bargains. I bought some thin linen t-shirts for layering at Monoprix. A lovely sage green scarf was waiting for me at my Port-Royal market yesterday.

There are many free concerts in churches. You don't need to pay for the pricey St. Chapelle concerts. Read signs and you will find them. This year, Janet and I went to a free concert in Montmartre and I saw a sign for musical week-ends (free) at Val-de-Grâce. If you like jazz, Café Universel on rue St. Jacques offers free music and an open mic day. You can go early and it's just locals having a glass of wine and enjoying the music. Barb only paid 5 euros for her milonga dances and that includes tea, coffee and snacks.

Paris city museums are free. If you haven't visited the Carnavalet , Musée Cognacq-Jay, Victor Hugo's or Balzac's houses, you can view any of the permanent collections gratuit. You can pay tourist price or neighbourhood price. I live next door to Poilâne, there are tourists looking in the windows all the time.
Breakfast: croissant, café, some bread and orange juice cost 10 euros. I ate there once. I can buy a croissant or a pain raisin for less than 2 euros. I make my coffee and buy yogurt and oranges at the market. Today, I left early for my appointment and had a coffee and croissant standing at the bar at Café Bullier (3 euros). Restaurants off the main squares are always less expensive and more often frequented by neighbourhood folks.

My Paris is a very every-day Paris. Alas! I didn't buy the 590 euros boots. I'm a retired school-teacher whose friends are mostly retired or soon-to-be retired. Comfortable walking shoes are necessary but the lovely boots not so much. It is a luxury just to be in Paris, to look at the beautiful objects in the window and to dream!
These will have to stay in the window!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mayday Wanderings.

Yesterday, I did a Mayday wander through the St. Germain des Prés area.  There were lots of people sitting out at Les Deux Magots and Café Flore but I passed these two restaurants by to find some less crowded and less expensive eatery. In my peregrinations, I happened upon Le Petit St. Benoit.

This was delicious. I am going to make it for Maman when I get home.

I love to find simple restaurants and Le Petit St. Benoit is one of them. They write the order on your paper table cloth. I had a cassolette de poisson, made of white fish, a creamy sauce flavoured with a little curry, carrots and zucchini. The cassolette was delicious with a little bread, the house red wine and a small café. The bill was under 20 euros for a healthy and tasty lunch. The restaurant does not accept credit cards or reservations.  The clientele seemed to be regulars. David Lebovitz visited Le Petit Saint Benoit  and gave the restaurant an interesting review.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I wandered through the streets of tightly closed shops, past Le Musée Delacroix, past art dealers, and windows offering up the correspondence of some of my favourite writers and artists. On la rue Buci, there was a lot of activity. People buying flowers, people eating, a musician dressed as a giraffe. Even on La Fête des Ouvriers, a few touristiques areas are open. For the most part, in France, workers do not work on holidays or Sunday or Monday in many areas. Most people still have 2 days together as a week-end. People wish each other "bon week-end". Time in the country with the family is precious.

rue Buci
I saw a beautiful elderly French lady buying flowers. She had sensible leather walking shoes, a moss-coloured woollen  coat, tan beret, gloves and bag. I would have loved to have taken her picture but I feel odd photographing people without their permission. I shall keep her style in my mind. Only two days left. I shall miss my Paris life.

J'adore les pivoines.