We came back to the States at the end of October and did that routine stuff older folks have to do including annual physical and dental appointments. We were ahead of schedule as we finished up and found ourselves in the very odd place of “unplanned time:” Here we were in Minnesota with three days before we were to meet up with friends in Chicago. Very strange conundrum. It’s not like we had a home to go to…what should we do with these extra days? We decided to head to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the place we lived right out of college so many years ago. Kenosha, on the shore of Lake Michigan.
It was directly on the way to Chicago and we had hotel reward points to take care of our lodging. Decision made; we were on our way. What a great choice it was! We toured old haunts, checked out our first home, the schools where we first taught! But the highlight was meeting up with our very best friends from “back in the day” and you know they’re good friends when more than 30 years later you can begin to catch up right where you left off.
Chicago might be my very favorite city…well, at least right up there with San Francisco and Paris! We have good friends in Big Rapids and we were suffering from “friend withdrawal” so in September we convinced them to meet up with us in Chicago for a week in November. For a whole week we just played! We found the Chicago History Museum that somehow we had missed on all our previous treks to Chicago and from there we wandered through the domed structures of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It had been years since we’d been to the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Mirror Maze is a newer permanent exhibit. Unbelievable! I read later that there is a small hidden room inside the maze; we never found it! We saw a fabulous play, Ride the Cyclone, at the Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier.
I don’t think the theatre seated more than a couple of hundred people which give a very intimate feel to the play! We got tickets for a game show at Second City (where the host said at one point talking about a song from the 80’s, “This is a song your parents would know.” Obviously the crowd was significantly younger than we!) And we ate at the most amazing restaurants! We found a Blues Bar in a rather seedy part of the city…thank heavens for Uber (whose business probably saw a significant drop when we left)! We played euchre game after euchre game, laughed a lot, drank a lot and just enjoyed ourselves! And the weather??? It was far more like early fall than the second week in November!
Later in November we spent a lovely two weeks in Seattle
visiting my sister and then headed back to a family Christmas in Michigan.
What a fabulous time we had catching up with family and friends. And what a thoughtful daughter-in-law and son for having us, actually encouraging us, to stay with them for a month! On January 1 we headed back out on the road, dropping our daughter off at the airport to fly home to Rome while we continued on to DC.
As we begin the second year of our adventure this seems a good time to reflect on the year just passed and decide what adjustments we want to make in the year ahead. I think one of the biggies for me is the realization that we don’t need as much stuff as we thought we did. I feel like every month we pare down what we need. (Maybe that too is because I get tired of lugging too much stuff around.) While the places where we’ve stayed have all varied a bit, they’ve generally had well-stocked kitchens with all the necessities we’ve needed and if there were something we truly felt we couldn’t do without, we’ve always found a nearby store where we could make the purchase. Those moments have been few and far between. And while we get a bit tired of wearing the same clothes, we realize that because we don’t see the same people all the time we can get along with a few favorite and comfortable outfits…however, it was fabulous to get to our son’s house in DC last October and trade many old things with items we had stored there. We have decided that staying longer in fewer places helps us feel more integrated into the community. In 2016 we’re generally booking places a month at a time…and perhaps we’ll even lengthen that next year to longer periods. If we spend too short a time in a place, I spend too much time planning ahead instead of enjoying our stay!
We’ve been in DC for ten days and because we know it a bit better having spent five months in the area last year, it’s been easier to get around. This time though we’re staying in the city, in the Columbia Heights area.
There are times I’m uneasy walking, particularly at night, because I’m not used to city living but I also like how you get to know a neighborhood on foot instead of traveling by car in the suburbs. Perhaps this is also the reason we liked Europe so much, we traveled by car between locations but generally used public transportation and walking once we arrived at our temporary homes. Here in DC we’ve found two local bars where we play trivia with our youngest son, who lives nearby. At the bar last night, I really felt like we were in a neighborhood pub. When we went to leave, the bartender called out, “Good night, Michigan!” To which a local on the bar stool said to my husband, “Michigan? I call you Chicago.” (Bob has a Chicago Cubs as well as a Chicago Bears shirt he frequently wears!) We recognized another fellow whom we had met last week and who introduced us to his friend.
I also realize that in many of the things we’re doing in the US there isn’t a wide range of ages. Both the Marine Band concerts that we’ve attended have been a pretty gray-haired crowd (though last week’s Sousa Concert was considerably younger than the group at the concert we attended last winter. Perhaps that’s because this one was on a college campus.) On the other hand we’re at least 20 years older than anyone at the trivia games. Not sure why that is either…maybe because we’re living in a younger crowd neighborhood. We haven’t noticed this in Europe. And I’m not sure why the difference. Maybe we make more “touristy” choices in Europe (i.e. art museums, Octoberfest, landmarks). We’ll watch more carefully this coming year and see what conclusions we can draw.
Both Bob and I agree: one great positive of all of our traveling is how very friendly people have been wherever we’ve gone. When I inquired about a tee shirt in a shop in Germany, the clerk told me that the one in the window was the only one she had; she then proceeded to crawl into the window and remove the shirt from the display. And she didn’t stop there. I kept on looking at it, wondering about the size. “Is your sister about my size?” she inquired. When I responded she was, the clerk then went and tried on the tee so I could see how it looked on her. In the end, I purchased it and it fit my sister perfectly! We loved the sidewalk cafes that were found in every European town where people sat outside chatting and generally just enjoying each other’s company…even when the temperatures required a coat and scarf! Again really friendly places.
Even knowing its relative size before going abroad, we were also amazed at how small Europe is. It’s like traveling from state to state in the US except in Europe you change languages. And even with the obscenely high cost of petro (often about $1.50 a liter or about $5.00 – $6.00 a gallon) when you drive short distances, with smaller gas tanks, the price doesn’t hit you quite the same as when we’re driving our mini-van and filling up 18 gallons at a time.
Another thing we really liked in Europe were all the bells. Everywhere we stayed we could hear bells. They even bell their cows! We definitely miss that sound in the US. And while we’re not religious, we also found that every town has a special church to see always with a detailed history. Growing up in a country that is so young, I never get used to Europeans talking routinely about events of the 1400s or earlier with such a nonchalent attitude.
I’ve made reservations for the next six months. We learned that if we book further out, it takes some of the flexibility out of our plans, but it is significantly cheaper. We’ll spend February on Amelia Island Florida. We had never heard of it before we started researching warm places to spend February but then found it on a list of 10 islands everyone needs to see (with no passport necessary). March we’re spending in Lagos Portugal. This is in the Algarve area. We’ve never been to Portugal and while this area is really mobbed by tourists in the summer, we’re hoping that in March it’ll be quieter. April we’re headed to northern Spain, Zarautz Spain will be our base for seeing the area. Then in May we’ll be living in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. (Perhaps two months in Spanish speaking countries will allow me to become more fluent in my Spanish, then again…) June and July we’ll be spending in the UK. And that’s as far as we’ve planned.
But enough time on this blog…tonight we have tickets for The Capitol Steps downtown…I’m wondering what the age range of this group will be!