Week 276 July 13, 2019

At the start of this week, Loren and I were still in Ipswich, where our AirBnB host – who taught us about microwavable pancakes – took us for a kayak ride in Plum Island Sound. Fortunately she knew the water patterns and it was an enjoyable day, though we could see how easily it could have been grueling if instead we had been fighting the currents. We finished the evening playing a game of Scrabble together. 

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The next morning Loren and I took a stroll around Strawberry Hill. Unlike the trek we took on Poon ‘Hill’ in the Himalaya, this ‘hill’ is a flat walk on a mowed path to the water’s edge. Then we returned to the house for the Women’s Soccer Finals, where we watched the US defeat the Netherlands.

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We also went on an historic town walking tour. Ipswich boasts several homes and buildings still standing from the 1600’s, 1700’s, 1800’s, reminding me how and where parts of early America was settled and claimed its independence. And everywhere tiger lilies are blooming.

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Then we were off to New York. We first stopped in for a final — for now — Bikram yoga class in North Andover.

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Once in New York we drove through Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia neighborhood which we had seen last Thanksgiving, again in appreciation of his unmistakable home designs. Afterwards we read how UNESCO World Heritage thinks his works are extraordinary too, adding these eight of his innovations to their official list:
     . Fallingwater in Pennsylvania
. the Guggenheim Museum in New York
. the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles
. the Jacobs House in Wisconsin
     . the Robie House in Chicago
. Taliesin in Wisconsin
. Taliesin West in Arizona, and
     . the Unity Temple in Illinois
We finished our day with a wonderful evening with my brother, his wife and younger daughter, then spent the night at an AirBnB in the Battle Hill neighborhood of White Plains, named for one of the sites led by George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

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Our connecting flight the next day took us through Detroit, then we were on our way to Omaha. Dear cousins from Denver picked us up, and as we drove south, we were in Iowa for about one mile, which their new car’s navigation system loudly announced upon our brief departure and reentry into Nebraska. Along the drive we stopped for a lovely dinner together. Then we arrived at the precious farm where Loren’s first cousin lives. 

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We had a lovely first day at the farm, then while this cousin was attending to the needs opening the County Fair which she oversees, another cousin took us on a tour of rural cemeteries in nearby Rulo and Falls City to find family plots. Here I noticed markers proclaiming certain headstones as “G.A.R.” I came to learn that these denoted the soldiers who served in the “Grand Army of the Republic” during the Civil War. Over dinner with these cousins we toasted with “Bloody Beer,” a drink of tomato juice mixed in with beer. 

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In the morning we helped a cousin with a small part of his home remodel, holding up a mantel piece for him to bolt in place. Then we reminisced about the history of this home, which was beautifully preserved for the ages through paint on an old saw.

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This is also where Loren remembers 50 years ago this month watching the old black and white television in this living room when Neil Armstrong said his famous quote heard over the airwaves on being the first person to land on the moon on July 20, 1969:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

He also proudly showed us the buckets of trophy home run balls his daughter has earned over the last few years, as she approaches her junior year in High School this fall. 

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We bade our Denver cousins a safe drive home before we headed off to see the goat showing competition at the County Fair… please read more on this in next week’s post.

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Week 247 December 22, 2018

Thanks for visiting our blog, we wish you a Happy Winter! and a very Merry Christmas!!

Loren’s and my week was one of multiple encounters of history. We spent one evening in Niles, in Fremont, California. We drove through the hilly curves of Niles Canyon in the dark to arrive at Essanay Theater, a museum devoted to the Silent Film era. We had two tickets from our gift exchange at a holiday party last week, and we chose to use them on a Silent Comedy night there. We learned from the curator that Charlie Chaplin had made five movies at the Essanay studio in Niles, including The Tramp released in 1915, which had catapulted him to stardom. That evening we saw him in His New Job, followed by “Buster” Keaton in Cops, Charlie Chase in There Ain’t No Santa Claus, and, Laurel and Hardy in Big Business. What was also of interest was the Civil War sword used by Chaplin in His New Job, and, the enormous old time camera that the museum owns. 

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Another highlight this week was when Loren’s Mom enjoyed a couple of former colleagues who came for a visit bearing gifts of holiday food.

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Another day, Loren and I returned to the University of California Botanical Gardens, and to avoid the drizzling rain, we visited a greenhouse with lots of cactus on display. One from Madagascar especially caught my attention, one from Mexico caught Loren’s eye.

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The main reason for our return to the gardens was to indulge in a midday Winter Solstice Sound Bath, in which we were treated to an hour of singing bowls, gongs and chimes. It was held in historic Julia Morgan Hall opened in 1911. The event was a thoroughly relaxing experience to mark the turning from the longest night towards the longest day. What was noteworthy was we arrived in wet weather, and emerged to sun and partly blue skies. The relaxation reminded me of a similar experience Loren and I had when we visited a spa in Acqui Terme, Italy.

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As we left the gardens, we found raindrops clinging to a web built on a cycad – the type we saw in Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, an ancient species of plant.

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Afterwards Loren and I enjoyed a lunch date with a former coworker of Loren’s at the Claremont Hotel. This was my first visit to this prestigious hotel built in 1915. Loren reminisced about a training he attended here when he first began working. Our views of the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge improved as the sun sank lower in the sky.

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After lunch Loren and I poked around to find the hotel’s art advertised in a brochure on our table. The most alluring was in the Hillary Tenzing room, celebrating Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Sagarmatha – Mount Everest, which Loren and I also saw in Nepal. 

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Our week finished with a gorgeous view of the full moon rising over Castro Valley.

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Week 240 November 3, 2018

This week started with Loren caregiving his Mom as per his usual weekly schedule, and with me running usual weekly errands, but I was shocked this week with seeing Santa Claus chocolate candy being stocked on shelves at the supermarket. Then I saw a huge Christmas tree and holiday decorations at the Mall. THEN I saw holiday cards for sale at the Post Office! The topper that evening was seeing a Disney holiday show advertisement during a Warrior’s game. But, if all that were not enough, the next day I saw a Christmas tree on a neighbor’s porch. This was all before Halloween… Too much!

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We heard this week from our dear friends from Shanghai who we had met in Nepal while they were on their honeymoon. This year they completed their French Way of El Camino de Santiago de Compostella – you can see her holding their Certificates in the photo below. And, lucky them, they continued on past Santiago to the Atlantic Coast for the Finesterra Camino – the ‘End of the World’ at Cape Fisterra.

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On Tuesday I taught three Bikram Yoga classes in the same day. I think that is my first time doing so and I will do so again next week. I have had a regular routine of teaching the 6am and 7:45am classes each week on Tuesdays. It was nice this week to also teach the 6:30pm, to see different students and to offer them a different teacher at that time. Then it was time for the holiday of the week, Halloween. We started our day with having two long put-off important meetings with a tax accountant and an attorney,

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and that evening, the 13 year old boy who is also staying long term at our AirBnB wore an FBI costume this year, and he wrote up a citation for Loren which included such creative violations as: Failure to wear a costume, Insufficient laughing, and Inappropriate dance moves! 

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Our friend and his Mom then went off to their church for a Halloween party, while Loren and I went off Trick or Treating at a friends’ daughter’s home where our friends were helping hand out candy. We took them the treat of a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our one friend’s retirement, memorably on the day of Halloween. She was duly surprised and touched, and we were delighted to help commemorate the special day.

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Loren and I have now traveled to Lodi, California for our first of their 22nd annual Sand Hill Crane Festivals. We had been enamored of the crane preserves and foundations we had previously stopped to see on our journeying in Nebraska and Wisconsin. These had reminded us of cranes that we had seen in the wild in Florida, Africa and Bhutan. Now this weekend festival offers us an opportunity to witness an actual migration of Sand Hill Cranes in person, which we understand is on par with the wondrous Wildebeest migration, which we had also witnessed when we were in Africa. 

On our drive to arrive here yesterday, we saw a flock of about a dozen Sand Hill Cranes with their black tipped huge wingspan fly right over our car. We saw a few larger flocks in the distance as we continued onward. We then stopped along the way for a little break and an easy hike at Big Break, where we saw the vast California Delta up close.

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As we continued our walk, we found that the regional park included several placards with information about the delta’s history and its environs. We even saw a little girl catch her first fish with the help of her grandparents while we were here. 

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The park also hosts a wonderful diorama map laid out, showing the delta, Mount Diablo with its wide range, and the major central valley cities. There is a cute video on the park’s website with a 7 year old boy showing off the full schematic – you can visit it at: https://youtu.be/EyCfw0XH_tM

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Loren and I then arrived yesterday evening where we are staying for a couple of nights at an AirBnB on a ranch, complete with at least a dozen horses, a herd of sheep, three dogs and the rancher couple who created this place 40 years ago. Our accommodation is in their private Bunk House, a perfect setting for a respite before the festival activities start up later this afternoon.

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I will always remember how when Loren pointed out some construction cranes that we saw in Italy, our friends there said they are called Grus, like the bird. It was only then that I connected that our construction cranes were likely also named for the enormous bird! I am excited to see how many of the other species of bird on this checklist we might encounter on the three tours that we have signed up for over today and tomorrow. 

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Week 235 September 29, 2018

This week we heard from family and friends, all who we had met on our journey, who are enjoying their own travels right now.

First we heard from friends who live in Shanghai, China who we met in Lumbini, Nepal when they were on their honeymoon. They are now walking the French Way, the most popular of the Camino de Santiago de Compostello. It was nice to reminisce with them about the great memories of our walk on the Portuguese Way last year. These are three of their photos, we again wish them Buen Camino!

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We also heard from our friends who live in Verona, Italy, who are visiting one of their sons and his girlfriend who are working in Toronto, Canada. Loren has not used his Italian in a while and I found his comment to them quite amusing after I translated it in Google, maybe you will too: 

    Andate con gli occhi verso il giro con grande gioia.

Google reports it as “Go with your eyes to the lap with great joy.” What Loren had wanted to say was more like, “Go with your eyes towards the world with great joy.” I imagine our Italian friends also had some chuckles from it. 

And, we heard from my cousins who live in New Hampshire who are enjoying a weekend getaway with their two sons and their families who live in New Jersey. Two of their three youngest grandchildren have just started Kindergarten, while their oldest grandson from New Hampshire has started college in New Jersey this year. He reminds me of my niece who has just started college in New York this year, and I am looking forward to seeing her and the rest of my brother’s family in New York at Thanksgiving. 

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On a more local level this week, from our bedroom window at the AirBnB where we are staying Loren and I appreciated seeing the full moon risings. Also, I started attending a drop-in group at the nearby Community Center. It is called “Shakespeare Cultural Literacy.”  I felt it was high time to learn more about the Shakespearean characters and phrases that are so much a part of our culture. I learned that he wrote 39 plays, but two of them are presently lost. However, this week the group was viewing Episode 2 of Ken Burns’ series West. It definitely was worthwhile to see, but now I am more looking forward to learning a bit about Shakespeare’s play, Pericles this next week. 

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On our date night, Loren and I went to see a local production of the musical Once Upon a Mattress. The main character conjured up a living image of Judy Garland with her enthusiasm, smile, and voice. The plot had me laughing at several points, and at the end it brought tears to my eyes. Again these are my measures of a great performance. 

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Speaking of theater, that is Loren’s word for this week’s events in the Senate Judiciary Committee process. It had me wondering whatever had happened to a High School classmate who was a pitcher for our school baseball team, and, after college had joined the FBI as a Special Agent for a few years. He has an impressive resume online now, since leaving the FBI. 

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Tomorrow I am honored to introduce a visiting Bikram Yogi instructor friend at her request to the Unitarian Church near where she is staying in Oakland, which is 20 minutes from where Loren and I are staying. Her collection of bumper stickers attests to her devotion to the yoga!

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And, the sermon writeup could not be more appealing:

     “Life is a journey of twist and turns, ups and downs that cannot be totally planned.
      What do we do when the unexpected, the painful and the mostly uninvited aspects
      of life, join us on our journeys?”

Week 188 November 4, 2017

At Milan’s airport at the start of the week, a young man on Air Italy staff remembered “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, the lyrics which Loren and I well know from Scott MacKenzie’s hit song of our youth. I asked if he could sing it but he declined until Loren began. He then joined in with a lovely voice. Farewell again Italy and Europe. Grazie for these more wonderful times, we so hope to return!

We purchased our tourist Visas for Egypt at a bank on arrival in Sphinx International Airport – this is standard procedure. Then we were met by a most efficient man from our tour company who helped us whisk through customs, and afterwards helped us find our hotel transport in a much shorter time than if we had been on our own. 

Cairo is a sprawling city of 25 million people, full of skyscrapers and traffic that we saw throughout our 45 minute drive. Fortunate for us traffic was moving in our direction – until we too were caught in a quagmire of red brake lights. The sheer number of small cars in narrow, poorly marked lanes contribute to the muddle between four rows or five, for example, depending on the courage of a driver to squeeze into a new fifth – even an amazing sixth, on a highway that in the States would allow for just 3 lanes of cars. Others follow, unless car horns stake claim from drivers already in the way, and we heard a lot of honking horns. What was more surprising were the parked cars and pedestrians on the sides of major highways, as well as incredible risks taken by jaywalkers – more often jay runners.

Loren and I awoke early for a pre-tour day trip to Alexandria City, and were treated to a stunning sunrise though through thick haze. We spent the day with one of our upcoming tour mates, a young woman guide, and our driver. I learned that the Egyptians celebrate two special days: 26th July, for claiming income for the Suez Canal from Britain in 1954, and, 6th October, for reclaiming the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in 1973. I also learned that the familiar name Ahmed is actually said Ahck-mehd. We saw the Giza pyramids in the not too far distance as we left Cairo by van.

In Alexandria we visited intact ancient Roman catacombs, the Alexandria museum, the site of the ancient lighthouse, and the library. The lighthouse was one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. but is no longer standing. Built from around 300BC/BCE, it was devastated by an earthquake that hit Alexandria in 700AD/CE. Now a nearly abandoned citadel – or palace, marks the spot. The library is outstanding for historical significance,  innovative modernistic redesign including the world’s largest reading room, and, advanced use of technology. Anyone can visit online: http://www.bibalex.org, worthy of a look.

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Afterwards, we met up with a delightful group of 10 others and our guide for the week, in time to join in the Day 1 activity of our tour’s visit to Khan al-Khalili bazaar, then to have dinner together. One valuable benefit of our Journey is that Loren and I had no jet lag – since Italy and Egypt share a time zone, compared to some who flew from other time zones. 

A bit about our travel mates includes two different Australian men, one who just finished a month working in the United Arab Emirates and the other on holiday during a year work commitment in Saudi Arabia, who both helped to increase my awareness of day-to-day life in these Middle Eastern cultures. It was interesting that many of us live elsewhere from where we were born. For example, a Canadian works in Japan with his wife of Thai descent who was raised in Australia, a Jamaican woman who lives in the US, a female American Chef who is headed to work in South Africa, an Australian who has moved some around his country and is on extended travel, and a German who has relocated within her country. A woman from England and another from Germany round out our new travel friends.

Our next day began with a fun boogie led by a travel mate to another’s phone playing Walk Like An Egyptian. We then spent part of our day at Giza to see the Great Pyramid – the sole wonder remaining of the 7 of the ancient world! Of course I have seen its images many times in my life, but to be up close, in person, is breathtaking for its sheer size and construction. It is like the difference in seeing photos of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park versus hiking the trail to its peak.

This giant manmade structure is the burial site of Pharoah Cheops, created 5 thousand years ago – around 3000 BC/BCE. Made of 2.3 million stones, each is anywhere from 1.5-15 tons of perfectly fitted limestone. We had the incredible opportunity to climb inside, taking steps partway up or nearly crawling in other parts of short, narrow passageways, to see the burial chamber. It is perhaps more magnificent and awe inspiring than Machu Picchu in Peru. Seeing this Pyramid was a long-held dream of mine come true, and to share the experience with other appreciative travel mates was a special added treat.

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There are actually three giant Pyramids at Giza, each with smaller ones for the Pharoahs’ wives. The son of Cheops made the second one, nearly as tall, and the top of this one retains the sleek layer of covering that used to grace all of them. Since he did not like the huge stone blocking the view of his burial site, he had it sculpted to reduce its size. As a result we have the massive Sphinx,

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which is near where our group briefly rode camels. The third belongs to the grandson of Cheops, is the smallest and seemed least well made attributing to it being last able to survive the elements.

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We concluded this day with a tour of Cairo museum where we saw a copy of the Rosetta Stone – the original is in the British Museum in London, and, the many gilded and golden belongings, caskets and protective housing of King Tutankhamen’s mummified remains, amid a plethora of artifacts of the Old, Middle, and New historical Kingdoms of Egypt. 

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An overnight train ride brought us to Aswan, the southernmost city of Egypt. Here we took a boat to reach Philae, which is the painstakingly relocated Temple of Isis, Goddess of health, marriage and wisdom. In olden times all Egyptians were to make a pilgrimage here. The removal to higher ground was necessary in the 20th century to make way for the new High Dam.

We had time for hand laundry – and, a nap for Loren, the pool for me – at our waterfront hotel on the corniche, or promenade. Then we went for a boat ride on the River Nile, which reminded me of when Loren and I boated to see birds at the source of the Nile in Tanzania nearly two years ago. This was followed by a memorable dinner with a local Nubian Village family who shared meaningful stories of their culture. Loren even had a henna tattoo done in Arabic of the words: Loren-in-Nile. An Ozzie – or Aussie as Americans would say, had the Southern Cross done on his arm, another had the Eye of Horus, known as the Protective Eye, on his arm.

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We had a pre-dawn-morning departure for our bus to tour Abu Simbel, the ceremonial temples of Ramses II and his favorite Queen. Both have four gargantuan statues of him on the facade, and the Queen’s has two additional statues of her. Both were originally carved directly out of the mountain on the west bank of the Nile, then methodically relocated to preserve them from lovely Nasser Lake, which formed as a result of the new dam. They are located just 40 kilometers from the Sudan border. So close…

We spent the next day relaxing on a felucca, “a traditional wooden boat with broad canvas sails,” on the Nile River, propelled mainly by gentle winds, otherwise the Nubian crew gently rowed us. My highlight was swimming in the Nile! I photographed Loren’s temporary tattoo while he was actually in the Nile. We saw the sun set, then I taught the standing series of a Bikram Yoga class, which was interesting for my travel mates, guide and one of the crew to balance even though the Nile is quite calm.

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After a wonderful dinner that our crew prepared, we sang a little and danced a little around a bonfire while the crew sang and drummed. Then we slept on mattresses on the large deck on board. Fortunately we had our sleeping bags to keep warm as the temperature dropped as predicted overnight. In the morning a flock of egret flew overhead before we enjoyed the crew’s delicious breakfast.

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It was awesome to see the Temple of Edfu, dedicated to Horus, the falcon-headed god, son of Goddess Isis and God Osiris, and, famous for his Protective Eye. But, afterwards both Loren and I and maybe a couple or few other of our travel mates started to “tomb-out or temple-out.” I was interested but aware that my lack of sleep on the felucca and the pre-dawn day earlier was draining my ability to fully appreciate what we were seeing. We checked in at our hotel for a refreshing shower before visiting the temple complex of Karnak, a massive expanse of open air museum displaying what was an incredible monument to the Kings of the day. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in downtown Luxor, then walked the 30 minutes to our hotel.

Our last full day began with a donkey ride – a fun, first ever experience for Loren and me, through local fields. and, then we went on to the Valley of the Kings, a massive area where many Pharaohs chose to be buried thinking to better preserve their treasure from thieves. In that day it was believed that their treasures were needed after reincarnation. I gladly paid the extra fee to see the Tomb of Tut Ankh Amun…

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I felt rejuvenated after a delicious lunch with another local family – father, mother, daughter and two sons in their home, before we went to see the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. She disguised herself as a man to rule, but as she had unseated her nephew, he later reclaimed the throne and this site is known as Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple. We ended the day stopping briefly to see the remaining Colossi of Memnon, huge remains in themselves at the entrance of what was once a much more tremendous site in it’s day.

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We enjoyed another dinner at the same downtown restaurant – because the food was that good, and, we had a special birthday to celebrate of a travel mate. Our guide made it extra special with a cake. I realized I had finally mastered remembering how to say Cheers in Arabic: fe sehetak – which sounds like vee seh-head-ahk. It was only on the felucca that I drank alcohol as it is rare to find it in Moslem countries, but, I gleefully toasted whatever beverage – hibiscus tea or juice, for instance, at our meals.

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An overnight sleeper train brought us from Luxor back to Cairo, where we said our farewells to our lovely new friends. We had been a most compatible group, with 5 of us 50 or older, the other 7 were in their 30’s. It was a privilege to spend time with such nice, interesting, travelers!

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Tonight Loren and I leave for a week in Kathmandu, Nepal. We hope this finds you well!

Week 187 October 28, 2017

We began this week in Verona with with dear friends, on a visit to Verona’s city center. My weather app had said the predicted rain was delayed to 4pm, a change from earlier in the day. But… it was wrong. We had cloudy skies at the start of our walk but then were rained on the rest of the time. Fortunately our friend was prepared with an umbrella and we also had hoods that we pulled up over our heads. 

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The rain did not prevent some jocks from participating in, and enthusiasts from watching a tournament of an ancient sport called Scianco. The play is a bit like baseball, a little like football, and some like the Scottish Highland Games, and totally different.

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We returned for a delicious meal with the rest of the family. The kids were preparing to return to their homes for their work/school week, while our friends took us for needed supplies. Then they offered us delicious minestrone soup and spinach quiche. We so appreciate the fun times with this lovely family, and enjoy their cooking skills too! With two of our birthdays just 6 months apart, it is a special connection. One thing our friend reminisces about is how the first English he was taught was: The book is on the table. When Loren and I were in Spain last month, and I was dredging up memories of my primitive Spanish, it dawned on me that the first things I learned were El libro and La mesa. I am thinking that points out differences between masculine and feminine objects. Now our friends have helped me learn how Il libro e sul tavolo is how it is said in Italian!

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Our one friend was off to work early on Monday morning, and soon afterwards the other drove us to the train station on his way to work. I had a nice conversation with Kofi, my seat mate on the crowded regional train to Milan. I learned that in Ghana, each child is named the same as the day of their birth, then often have additional Christian names. That is why his first name is the same as former UN Secretary-General Annan. His English skills are excellent, as he grew up speaking it, the official language of Ghana, and has learned Italian while living in Italy for the past 12 years.

Kofi would prefer to live in Ghana – his parents, 3 brothers and 2 sisters all live there, as well as his son who lives with one of his sisters. Kofi hopes to return to Ghana someday if economic conditions there improve. In the meantime, he was on his way to Milan to prepare papers in hopes to bring his son, who is now 18 and a high school graduate, to Italy to study. He has previously helped another of his brothers move to Italy for work too. In Kofi’s tribal language, Fante, which is understood by those who speak the very similar Akan language (the two main tribes of Ghana), days of the week are: Kofi for Friday, and Kwabena, his son’s name, for Tuesday. In case you are interested as I was, Kojo is Monday, Kweku is Wednesday, Yao (said Eyow) is Thursday, Kwame means Saturday and Kwesi is Sunday.

On Monday, Loren and I spent the night in Milano, where Agnese and Matteo live. They met us at a Bar near the university and joined us in attending a Toastmasters meeting there. Loren and I had learned about The Milliners club from David, who we had met at the Morsasco Castle a couple of weeks ago. What a smaller and smaller world it is, as Loren had been a Toastmaster – for help developing skills around public speaking and listening, for about 15 years. I had been involved in a club at work for a few years at Loren’s suggestion. It was nice to see David again and to participate briefly in the vitality of his TM club. We said our final farewells to Agnese and Matteo – just for now we hope, then in the morning Loren and I were off again on the train, then bus to Lago di Como.

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In Torno we have stayed in a little studio apartment, across the lake from Moltrasio where we had visited once before. Hermann Hesse immortalized Torno with writing about his falling in love on first seeing it by boat. We have had a couple of days of delightful sunshine after the rain, for taking walks around the steep mountainside town, and before the haze returned on our last full day here.

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One day we took a hike over 4 hours, up and around the mountain and down, behind and above Torno. It reminded me a bit of our walking on the Camino!

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We have caught up on some travel planning and a bit of email too while we were here. We reminisced over our walk in early September on the Camino de Santiago – thanks to receiving a batch of great photos taken by new friends who we had made while there. They are from Florida and all safely returned to their hurricane threatened homes. 

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Tomorrow we leave from Malpensa airport for Cairo, where first we have a one day tour planned, then an 8 day tour to see parts of Egypt – officially, the Arab Republic of Egypt.

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Week 186 October 21, 2017

This was a fulfilling, full of fun week! We began with Loren having a day of rest, because, he preferred not to join me in going to the city to do laundry. I call it my “Adventure in Acqui Terme Day.” I went there by car with il ragazzo (the young man) from Podere La Rossa, then was on my own to hunt for the laundromat. The one recommended was no longer in business, and the other on my tourist map was also not in operation, which brought me to seek out the Grand Hotel Nuove. Fortunately the front desk helped me find one. They also recommended a place to have my hair cut, once the laundry finished.

It felt quite the accomplishment to navigate with my minimal Italian for the lavanderia, una cafe (coffee), take away insalata pranzo (salad lunch to go), and especially with the hair dresser of Chinese birth who spoke no English. Coincidentally I met due ragazze da Morsasco, (two young women who live in Morsasco), at the shop where I bought my salad, who knew our cousins. That evening Loren and I had another great afternoon visit with cousins, followed by a divertiti (fun) pizza dinner in Acqui Terme.

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Loren and I also visited the Morsasco cimiterio (cemetery). We were touched to find some of the family members names who we have talked about in exploring how we are all related. Then we walked to the original family home: Cascina Tomelotto in dialetto, or Casa di Tomelotto in Italiano, before we had a good hike to and from the nearby village of Prasco. Afterwards we had another fun evening with our American friends and their houseguest, first at their home, then for dinner at La Vetta restaurant in Cremolino.

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It was a final, nice visit in Morsasco for pranzo (lunch) with our cousins, before leaving for the Aqui Terme train station, where we were able to meet a special friend, and say our farewells.

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The train brought us through Alessandria to Asti, to see paternal side cousins. In addition to admiring their lush gardens and vineyard, and, having delicious home prepared meals, we drove one day to Cosombrato, the nearby village where Loren’s grandfather was born, and, another to see the impressive modern Salesian cathedral in tribute to its inspired founder, Don John Bosco. I would include more personal photos except it is in regard and respect of this side cousins’ wishes to not include their photograph online. 

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Before we knew it our brief yet memorable visit was coming to an end. At the Asti train station our cousin translated the Italian words for “All roads lead to Rome,” as “Tutti di via porto a Roma,” or “Tutti di strada porto a Roma.” What I have also noticed this week is how many cities, towns and villages have tribute roads to such figures as Vittorio Emanuele, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Antonio Gramsci and others, which is similar to how US towns and cities have roads honoring Presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, for example, as well as important figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., among others. It is still hard to imagine that Italy became a united country nearly 100 years after the US won her independence from Britain… which contributes to how much dialetto is still spoken in each Italian village. 

This time the train brought us to Caldonazzo, to visit with friends. We said our first hellos to the newest member of the family over dinner. The next morning we joined in on the family mountain hunt for cinghiale – what we call boar, and camoscio – a local deer-like animal. Loren suggested that these friends, “Viva per cinghiale,” meaning that they live for the wild pig, but, their response was, “No! Cinghiale vive per mi!” with a chuckle.

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That afternoon, we went to Borgo Valsugana to see ArteSella – art in nature, which is an impressive, open-air style art museum. I found a few circular pieces of special interest. On the way home we met the mother of a special friend, who advises pensa positivo, or think positive in English. That evening we met a cousin of the family who is also a hunter, with his special friend.

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The next day we drove to Lago di Tovel, stopped for coffee, then walked the giro, or tour, but perhaps path is a better translation, around the stunning lake.

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Now Loren and I are visiting again with our dear friends in Verona and two of their three wonderful children and their special friends. The oldest child joined us by video as he and his special friend are living and working on research in Toronto. With fun and stimulating conversations over delicious meals and a good long walk one day from Bardolino to Garda with another friend, we relish in this special friendship. While Loren continues to expand his Italian skills. I am learning to understand a little better…

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Thank you to all our family and friends who have invited us into your homes and shared your lives with us with laughter and love. Those here in Italy, just as our dear ones in the US and other places in the world, you are each so beautiful and we love you. Loren and I treasure our time together, everyone, everywhere!

Week 185 October 14, 2017

Buon Giorno! Good Day! in Italian. This week, we learned that the only way to reach Acqui Terme – our next destination from our location of Alba, was by train back to Torino, another to Asti, then one more to Acqui Terme. There was no direct bus service either, so we resolved ourselves to the train schedule. What fortune we then had in meeting an American couple from New Hampshire. We enjoyed a delightful time waiting for the train, then in riding to Torino together. The wife, like Loren, is half Italian on her mother’s side. More special people who we will hope to see sometime again!

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In Acqui Terme we were amused to find that the gas station across the street from our albergo – hotel, included not only an attached cafe but a full restaurant/pizzeria, which also featured live music on Saturday night. We were the earliest diners as the performers warmed up before the larger crowd arrived. The two young men provided lovely harmony. One even sang a few American pop numbers, the other rendered Quando, Quando, Quando, beautifully. As we left, they both offered Buona Sera – Good Evening, to us from their microphones.

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The next day, in an uncanny stroke of luck, we discovered that we could attend a concert inside il Castello – the Castle, in Morsasco, a tiny hilltop village where Loren’s nonna e biz-nonna – grandmother and great-grandmother, were both born. The castle is now owned privately. As we had only ever seen it from outside the castle walls, we made our way to Morsasco for the event. Unfortunately our cousins in town were down with the flu, so could not join us.

Before the concert began, a few of us were exploring the grounds where we met an Italian man from Milan. However during the course of a conversation I instead detected a native American English speaker. It turned out that he had been an exchange student to Italy some 30 years ago and has never returned to live in the US. Like Loren once was, he is very active with Toastmasters’ International, and we hope we might attend a meeting with him before we leave Italy. You can see a photo of his thriving club if you copy and paste this link into your browser: https://m.facebook.com/themillinerstoastmasters/photos/a.894564497337351.1073741827.890422457751555/1286766374783826/?type=3&source=44

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Then, I was surprised during a pre-concert social time inside the Castle, to hear more English being spoken. I befriended three more Americans, and before the evening was over, Loren and I had a date to see one of them again, as she now lives in Morsasco. What was more astonishing is that we then ascertained that the friends who were visiting her and I have a friend in common in the state of Washington. The world keeps becoming smaller…

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Before Loren and I left Acqui Terme which means “thermal water,” we did “take the baths.” At Lago Delle Sorgenti, the waters are combined with sound treatment, which they have named “Holistic Path in 12 Steps of 3-4 hours.” It was heavenly, especially during our second time in the “Gong Lounge,” having it entirely to ourselves with just the “Tibetan Bells and Planet Gong” therapist leading our experience. 

We then took a taxi ride with our same driver who had transported us to and from the concert at the Castle. We were welcomed once again to Morsasco, this time at Podere La Rossa” – the farm of the red grapes, by un ragazzo – a young man, who works there. We wanted to stay at La Rossa because it is remodeled from the original stone farmhouse where Loren’s great-grandmother was born. Thanks to our young host who has a college degree in Tourism and who started working at La Rossa as an intern, I now understand how the Spanish and Italian languages are so similar. It is since the Roman Empire fell, the German Visogoths settled in Spain while the closely related Ostrogoths came to Italy. Online I found that Visigoth means western Goth and Ostrogoth – what else? – eastern Goth.

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We have enjoyed the silence and serenity at La Rossa. Similar to Planet Gong, we have been completely by ourselves, with the exception of the owners and staff who live offsite and have come to make our breakfasts or prepare special weekend lunch or dinner events, as we are visiting during the off season. It turns out that we are also staying where Julia Roberts once visited when she was in Morsasco for the wedding of a friend. We have been entertained too by the gazza – magpies, flitting about. I saw this bird for the first time ever in Canada on our Journey, then again in southeast Africa where they are named “pied crow.”

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Most important is that our cousins have recovered from their cases of the flu enough that we have had a couple of wonderful visits already. They had us for lunch one day, and took us on un giro – a tour, by car to see several of the surrounding hilltop towns each with their individual castles. Coincidentally La Rossa is owned by in-law relatives of our cousins. As mentioned above, it was named for the red grapes in the vineyard, and we learned that their creative wine label includes an image of our cousin’s grandparents honeymoon photo!

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We also had a lovely evening visiting our new friend who we met at the concert and enjoyed spending time with her, her partner and her mother. They have a gorgeous home. Our cousins called it the best house in town, and we can attest to that! It is beautiful, fully remodeled on a large tract, with a fabulous view from the back yard. We wish them all the best in settling into their new community, where they have already felt welcomed and appreciated.

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Loren and I have also enjoyed walks to the nearby hilltop village of Tresobbio, about an hour each way,

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then through Cremolino to the larger town of Ovada – about 2 and a half hours one way. What fun to note how each town and village have their own Via Roma, also the name of the street where Loren’s grandmother’s birth house is located in Morsasco, reminding me how at one time in history, “All roads lead to Rome.”

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In Ovada, we enjoyed a very fresh pranzo – lunch, of pasta con funghi – with mushrooms, Porcini to be exact. Outstanding! We will have a ride back to La Rossa with our ragazzo shortly. What a fun week of seeing special family members and for making new friends. We have also been grateful to have had several beautiful fall days in a row – of mostly sunny, sweater-weather days, where butterflies flit in joyful play… Just lovely!

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Week 184 October 7, 2017 – 3.5 years on our Journey!

Last week I did not mention the very long walk – over an hour – with our packs on our fronts and backs from the Torino – Turin, train station to our AirBnB. This, on top of an early morning, and of walking from our Barcelona AirBnB, standing the entire way on the lengthy metro ride to the airport for our flight, and, an enjoyable though late night dinner date, all made for a long, however, memorable, day. On the bright side, I must capture how our AirBnB in Torino had the most creative use of space – with a complete kitchen in a closet! I continue to be amazed by what the world has shown me is possible.

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We had hoped to visit precious cousins near Asti this week, unfortunately they had come down with the flu. We are sending them our continued good wishes, and, our thanks again to other dear cousins in the States who persuaded us to have our flu shots before we left for overseas. So, we decided to take a train to visit nearby Alba, where Nutella is made by the same family who make the Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Sadly, especially for Loren, we discovered that they do not offer tours of their factory – to protect the recipe

When we left Torino for Alba, there was a mixup that was our fault – since the Bar, or what in the US would be called a Cafe across the street from our AirBnB had no internet, and, with no SIM cards in our phones, we are limited technologically. As a result we were unable to check into our AirBnB until 6pm, instead of at 1pm as we had anticipated. I sat with our packs in the Bar while Loren found a park near a hotel where we could have open wifi, so at 3 pm we moved with our backpacks to sit in the park for a while. Then, Loren went to find the tourist office while I stayed with our belongings in the park.

After an hour and a half, I become a little concerned, and by 2 hours, I started using Google translate to be able to say in Italian, “Please can you help with these backpacks? My husband has not returned after 2 hours from the tourist office, and we are due at our hosts’ home at 18:00 (6pm). I am becoming concerned…” Just as I had finished with that bit of translation, Loren arrived! I had forgotten that he was also taking care of another errand. We then agreed how important a backup plan is should we be separated again.

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Alba was on our wish list for their upcoming Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba – White Truffel – mushroom – Festival, on the weekend. Instead of staying in town for that, we splurged on two small tartufo bianco at a tartufo shop. The nero – black ones, though less expensive, had less aroma. We were assured that they had all just been dug up in the forest in the past hour with the traditional trusty help by the keen nose of the shopkeeper’s dog! We then took them to an osteria – tavern, the one recommended by our AirBnB host, to slice over a pasta dish for dinner. Afterwards, digestifs of Grapa, Sambuca and Brandy were included, gratis. The experience was caro – expensive, literally dear, yet unique and unforgettable.

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Reflecting on our recent visit in Spain, I remembered that I had written this Haiku in January, 2017, when Loren had not been interested in visiting Spain because he had been there 40 years ago:

   Travels 
   Claire Adalyn Wright
      Austin to Boston

      New York to Yorkshire; Maine… will 
      I ever see Spain?

And now I can say that I have been to Spain! I am so very grateful for our extended travels Journey and for Loren’s change of heart. I have been working on another poem of sorts, simply titled “Places Poem” for now, which takes off on that Haiku. I hope to continue to flesh it out from its poetic skeleton, and will share it after that. 

Also on traveling in Spain, my brother has suggested that I am having, “The ultimate geography lesson,” on this Journey. Yes, that is absolutely true, and, more! Like, when I see an image of the globe in Europe, it is most often oriented, not with North and South America facing me, but from the European and African perspective. Of course! But, I have had to look twice as this view seems odd, surprising, and remarkable.

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Or, when at first I had seen so many references in Spain to familiar names and places — Florida, San Francisco, San Joaquin (said w-ah-keen), San Jose, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and also others in Portugal, I had been tickled. Then, it really sunk in how the Spanish had settled in Florida then California, a few centuries ago. Now, being an American in Spain I was very moved by that awareness of connection, just as I was moved by Antoni Gaudi’s expression of his religious faith at Sagrada Familia in Barcelona last week. I can only convey my experiences in mere words – how I wish that everyone could travel and see, and learn so much, about the world as Loren and I are doing on our Journey.

Back to our present week in Alba, of the Piemonte – Piedmont, region of Italy, the weather has been overcast and chilly. Despite the initial mixup, we have enjoyed this lovely AirBnB apartment, which is full of interesting artwork.

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One day Loren and I decided to take a local bus to a small village nearby, called Cortemilia. Before we left, the sun appeared, making a more cheerful day, and accentuating the changing leaves. We hiked up to al Castello (the Castle) then walked around the town. We visited a couple of churches, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and strolled by the river with the fall colors evident

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Then, we were sure to have a piece of yummy Torta di Nocciole delle Langhe – hazelnut tort cake of the local area, for which this village is famous. It is made with fresh nocciolas – hazelnuts. Before our return bus ride, I also noticed the famous historic Italian poet Dante honored with his own street name here, as he is in so many Italian villages, towns and cities…

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We also have been doing more future travel planning, currently having quite the time trying to understand the often contradictory information about the Visa application process, requirements, and time limits for India. Given what I am reading online, I think we will be extremely lucky if we are able to procure the proper Visas for the timeframe that we hope to be there. 

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Tomorrow we will take a train to Acqui Terme, near where our other cousins live…
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Week 183 September 30, 2017

I apologize for our post being late this week. Due to limited free time, Loren and I were unable to find a secure wifi spot in Barcelona… I had paid an enormous price in my time once before for using an open network, so, if our posts are late again you will please understand why.
In Madrid at the beginning of this week, we learned that more than 3 million people call this city home. And on the weekend in September it seemed that nearly all of them, plus a huge number of tourists, were out and about. We encountered them from Plaza de Espana to Gran Via, Porta del Sol to Plaza Mayor, The Prado to El Retiro Park and Puerto de Alcala. Loren and I were ultimately able to find a quiet park to have our picnic supper near the Royal Palace and Gardens one evening.
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We also were able to take daily Bikram Yoga classes. It felt great to be in the hot room again. Even with the classes being taught in Spanish, I heard a very few words in English and recognized some Sanskrit names of the postures. And, I could comprehend so many of the words for inhale, exhale, hands, arms, feet, knee, breathe, stomach, and stretch, for example, all the basics of yoga. It is fortunate that the Bikram method is the same 26 postures every time, as Loren and I already know how to do them in any language.
Our greatest sightseeing pleasure in Madrid was visiting Museo del Prado with its vast collection of masterpieces, many of mythological and biblical scenes, and Renaissance works. Loren realized how these were created before the invention of photography, making the art that much more important to those living in the day. What a lucky legacy for us now. We were advised by friends to see one part of The Prado then go back the next day to see the other as it is too much to take in on one visit. We actually split our time there over three visits, yet I still missed out on all of what I had hoped to see.
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The most incredible moment included that I have always wanted to see Murillo’s Immaculate Conception in person. It is one of two smaller copies that I had gazed at in my grandparents home over all the years of my youth. I had seen the other, Rafaelo’s Madonna of the Chair, some years ago in Florence. Now I have seen it too! Three other masters who brought me delight at The Prado were Carracci with his Venus and Adonis for how magnificently he captures Venus’ loving rapture, Rubens’ Birth of the Milky Way for its irreverence, and, Durer’s Eve, Adam, and Adam and Eve for their personification. There were no photos allowed, which is a good thing, because if I had taken time to make photos, I would have seen even less of the immense, both in number and in size in many cases, collection.
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We then flew to Barcelona where we had 5 nights booked for the last few days of our visit in Spain. Each of them were packed full of adventure. You may have heard the news that Catalunya had an upcoming vote to secede from Spain, while we were there. At first we saw some flags and banners in favor and only a very few showing support for remaining part of Spain. Then while we were there we saw more and bigger independence flags and banners appear, and, as you may know, it passed. We wish all the Spanish and Catalunyans the best in determining what comes next.
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We so appreciated seeing all that we could of Barcelona. It is hard to say which we enjoyed most. First, the historic Mercat del Born gave us an appreciation of Catalunya’s heritage. Then the Picasso Museum, showing many examples of his youthful prodigious and classical talent, was enlightening. We also appreciated that we had studied Velasquez’ Las Meninas in Madrid, as Picasso had later devoted himself to recreate it 58 times, in his most unique style. 
Then we explored a bit of Antoni Gaudi’s works at the Gaudi Exhibition Center. We splurged on the virtual reality glasses option there, allowing us to watch him direct some work on The Crypt at Colonia Guell. What an outstanding creative architect and artist! We also strolled part of La Rambla – a pedestrian walkway, stepping onto a side street to see Palau Guell, designed by Gaudi for his benefactor, Eusebi Guell, with ornamental lighting on the roof. We then continued our walk back to our AirBnB near the harbor and saw the very tall Monument to Columbus.
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We took a full day tour to see Girona and Figueres. We had a good tour guide in Girona who shared about how flies are sacred here for their part in winning a war with the French, and, of the well preserved Jewish Quarter after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Afterwards Loren and I visited the Jewish History museum here.
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The tour also took us to the Salvadore Dali Theater museum. Yet again, we appreciated having seen Velasquez’s Las Meninas in Madrid, as Dali also incorporated a copy of it in some of his art. Dali is another very uniquely talented artist. While most of his art was difficult for me to appreciate, I very much enjoyed his jewelry designs. My favorite was The Eye of Time.
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Then on our last full day in Barcelona, we visited both Gaudi’s intricately beautiful Parc Guell,
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and, the culmination of Gaudi’s life work at Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) church. Loren had seen it when only a few of the grand spires were completed 40 years ago. Today it is a building that can be entered and appreciated. Gaudi was devout in his faith, and he had a keen sense of how nature could be woven into architecture. I was moved again and again both outside and inside this magnificent, one of a kind temple. The structure, which he took over as architect in 1883, is scheduled to be completed in the 100th year of his death, in 2026. Loren and I hope to return to see it again then.
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Now we are just leaving from a too quick overnight in Torino (Turin), Italy, where we had a lovely and delicious dinner reunion with a couple who we had met in Croatia a year ago.
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