30 December 2018

At The Top of the World

Tromsø, Norway is almost as far north as you can go (Magerøya is farther but this was plenty far for me) on land in Europe. It's north of the arctic circle and definitely the furthest north I've ever been. Why did I choose to go here in mid-December (as someone who hates being cold)?  I wanted to see the northern lights for my birthday.

The sun doesn't go above the horizon from mid-November to mid-January this far north.  There are about 2 hours of twilight but that's it.  It's dark the rest of the time.  I know people adjust but I would have a very difficult time living there. 

We set off to chase the lights after suiting up in some serious cold-weather gear.  Despite this gear, my toes were cold and we were still in the van.  As I sat in the very uncomfortable, cold van, it wasn't lost on me that I'm very fortunate to have the means and ability to take trips like this.  So I smiled to myself and wiggled my toes to try to keep them warm. Happy birthday to me.

Due to a storm off the coast of Norway, we headed inland to Finland where skies were clearer.  After checking out a few possible locations, our guides settled on a frozen lake in the Lapland area of Finland just on the border with Sweden. It took us about 3 hours to get there and is inhabited by nomadic reindeer herders.  The guides told us that although the reindeer aren't confined in any way, they all officially belong to the Sami people.

The naked eye cannot see as much of the color spectrum as a camera lens can pick up.  Therefore, all the pictures you see of the northern lights are more brilliant than what we mere humans see.  What we mere humans saw that night was rather underwhelming.  The lights just were not very strong.  I cannot take credit for these photos.  They were taken by our guide using camera techniques that I definitely do not possess! That faint greenish glow is all we got (and what's in the pictures is more than what we could actually see).

I'm not complaining that it wasn't anywhere near as cold as I feared (just a few degrees below freezing).  The suits they gave us worked really well (and mine was only a little too big so I was still able to move around). My toes were cold and my cheeks are obviously red but I expected to be miserably cold and, thankfully, I wasn't.
We did see an amazing number of shooting stars and constellations were bigger and seemed closer than I'd ever seen them.  I've seen incredibly clear skies in places like Mali (where there's just no nearby light pollution so there are more stars than you could have imagined) but they all felt so much closer up there.

We stayed there for about 3 hours, I think, and then headed back; returning at about 4am.  Not that 4am looks any different than 4pm. The guides do a really good job of trying to find the best location for viewing the lights but they can't control solar winds and atmospheric conditions.  It's not uncommon to book an excursion several nights in a row in hopes of getting good conditions but I was so exhausted after just one night out like that that I am glad we didn't try it 2 nights in a row.  I might go back again and try my luck another time.  Maybe.  It's definitely something that I still want to experience...maybe even more now that I was teased.

The town of Tromsø itself is cute (it would be interesting to see it in the summer when it's light enough to actually see!) and I had the most amazing vegan sushi ever!  Seriously!  I'd almost go back just to eat that again!!

This is mid-day. We waited to go out until we had the most light.

I like the reflection of the roofs in the puddle.

We walked across that bridge and then took a cable car up the hill.  It was really cold and windy!

I'm not a big fan of winter in cold places and I'm disappointed that we didn't get dancing lights streaking and swirling across the sky but it's basically a crap shoot and we tried.  We can say we saw...*something.*  Better than nothing.

Have you seen the northern lights? Have you gone on an adventure that didn't quite deliver what you had hoped for?

17 November 2018

Totally Worth It - Sundays In My City

During my short visit to Montenegro, this woman was selling some embroidered table cloths and such.  I rarely buy things because, well, I just don't  like having a lot of stuff.  I asked her if I could take her picture and she said I could if I paid her 2 euro.  "I have to eat," she said.  2 euro well spent!!

13 October 2018


TORSCHLUSSPANIK (German) - The feeling that time is passing and the chance to do things is slipping away. Literally 'gate-closing panic'. 

I've known this feeling a number of times but didn't know that there was a word for it. I should have known.  The Germans have a word for everything.

Living abroad but knowing it's for a limited time invokes this feeling a lot.  I've written before about finding a balance between normal, daily life and the desire to see and do as much as possible while I'm here. As I approach the end of my 2nd year (of a 3-year assignment) I start to panic! There are still SO many places I want to go and things I want to do.

My first year here was rough and I didn't do as much travel as I would have but the time with the dogs is irreplaceable.  The second year...

I took three trips to the US for training classes.  I got to see my family, visit my sister, see some friends I haven't seen for 5 and 10 years, visit my favorite rescue...

I went to Athens

I met up with Mom and Gran in Lisbon

I stopped in Seville for a few days and fell in love with the city!

I took a last-minute whirlwind trip to London to see Hamilton (I'm going to see it again in 2 weeks but that trip has been planned since the spring). It was the first time I've visited London when it didn't pour rain :D  And no one stole my wallet and passport so it still isn't my favorite place but I might consider releasing my great dislike of the city.

Yes, it's as good as you've heard it is!!!

I went to nearby Lake Garda...it's hard to believe it took so long to visit something so close

I finally made it to Dubrovnik and Montenegro

Montenegro (Spanish for Black Mountains)...interesting because Montenegro does not border Spain and was never under Spanish occupation or rule...is stunningly beautiful!

My brother and his friend just visited and we went to several places in the south of Italy

First we climbed Vesuvius (there in the background) and then checked out the ruins of Herculaneum.

I realize that sounds like a lot of travel but with so many options so close by it doesn't' feel like much. I am fully aware of how elite/entitled/spoiled that sounds.

I just signed a two-year extension so now I have three years remaining.  But the list of places I want to go is looooooong!  So I'm sure I won't be able to shake the feeling of TORSCHLUSSPANIK.

How about you? Do you suffer from torschlusspanik?

19 August 2018

The Good, The Bad, and the August

There are things I love about Italy.  Pizza and wine are good and cheap! I was allowed to take my dogs in to get the pizza and the wine. There's no rush to finish your food and vacate the table.  They will leave you sitting there all night unless you ask for the check. Italians will tell you that you speak Italian well even if you don't.  They just appreciate that you try.  Many "prescription" drugs can be bought over-the-counter.  This is super convenient! It's a complex culture...men will live at home with their parents until they get married (because a woman has to take care of them) but they will also wear pink skinny jeans and carry a man purse.  The definitions of masculinity are blurred.

There are things that I don't love about Italy.  Most places are closed on Sundays (especially in small towns) which means I have to do my errands like grocery shopping on Saturday and if I'm traveling, well, Allorah!  Many places close for riposa (basically the afternoon nap) including things like the gas station. Restaurants don't open until 7pm (or later!) and even then aren't ready to serve you food.  It's my bed time before you can eat :( The train system is privatized so there are several companies offering train service which makes it confusing and the so-called competition does not make it more efficient.  The Dutch and Germans have much better, cleaner, on-time service.

Weekday gas station hours (closed from 1230-1430).  They are only open in the morning on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.

Italians know how to August! August is the month when most Italians take vacation.  Who cares that there's an economy in decline.  Close the store/gas station/manufacturing plant for a month and go on holiday!  I'm not joking.  Not everything closes for the whole month but plenty do.  File this under "things I don't like." The gas station is closed for 2 weeks.  The cabinetry manufacturer (I work in construction) is closed for the whole month. Your car breaks down...there's a good chance you're waiting until September to get it fixed (my friend is facing this problem right now)!

Sign at the gas station.

I usually don't travel in August because places are crowded, prices are higher, trains are packed, roads are traffic-jammed.  But this past weekend I went to one of the local termes.  According to the community's website:

Abano Terme, the most important and oldest thermal center in Europe, stands in a location at the feet of the Euganean Hills and in the center of the Veneto Region.  Its name comes from the Greek, "a ponos," which means that it takes away pain.

According to legend

Hercules and his heroic companions set off from Greece to defeat Geryon. Finally exhausted and worn out after having killed him, they were restored by the miraculous virtues of that hot water and did not want to return to Greece. Also attracted by the beauty of the surrounding hills, they stayed to live there. The hills were named Euganean because of the nobility of their descent. The spring that had given much relief to warriors was called Aponon in Greek. Hercules himself, in order to purge the evil to Geryon, built a temple in Abano in his honor, permitting him to become an oracle. As Suetonius wrote, this legend was well known in the Roman world; the emperor Tiberius, one day when he was travelling to Illyria, wanted to listen to this famous oracle and he got a peremptory response, precisely to throw gold dice into the spring, exactly where Abano stands today, to be advised about his fate. Legend has it that the dice made the water precious, giving it special properties that can heal various diseases.

There are multiple hotel and spa complexes with pools of varying temperature.  Generally, getting into a swimming pool the temperature of bath water when it's 85-95 degrees outside is not my idea of a good time.  But I needed a get-away and it's close by.

One of the things I love about the Italians is that, despite having some rigid rules about how to dress (no sneakers at dinner, you wear a coat because it's November whether it's 80 degrees or 20 outside) they seem to have no issues with wearing whatever you want while swimming.  All types of bodies were on display and almost every woman, regardless of age or size, was wearing  bikini.  There was no expectation to cover C-section scars, belly rolls, back fat, cellulite...  Men wore trunks or tight little shorts or speedos.  Everyone walked/sat around as if their body was completely acceptable just the way it was.  As it should be!!  Seriously, that was the best part of the weekend for me.

I didn't take a lot of pictures because the rules said not to.  Now, the rules also said no smoking was allowed but people did that.  The rules also said no dogs were allowed but there were several. One rule that is strictly adhered to is the swim cap rule.  Everyone must wear a swim cap.  Even bald men!

Everyone wearing their swim cap!

Are there peculiar rules where you live? Do people know how to August?

27 May 2018

A Marathon in Athens - Sundays in My City

A few months ago I went to Athens, Greece for a long weekend.  The weather was beautiful, the city was beautiful (and not super crowded...hint, go in February if you don't want to fight crowds! Also, if you go before easter, tickets for the monuments are half price!) but I'm pretty sure I walked a dang marathon while I was there (and the Olympic stadium was the last thing I visited which felt appropriate for the finish of my marathon).  My feet felt like battered stumps after a couple days. Athens isn't for the faint of feet...or knees.  It is hilly and uneven but the central area is small enough to be walkable...just make sure you wear very comfortable shoes!

I was going to be a good little blogger and give you info about each of the sites I visited but

1. I'm lazy
2. You know how to use Google
3. I have planning to do for my next trip!

So here are a bunch of pictures in no particular order...

The Great Drain!  No joke.  I might be the only person to get excited about that.

The Changing of the Guard seriously looked like it was orchestrated by Monty Python's Bureau of Funny Walks!

Everywhere you turn is an archeological site and I would love to go back and see more.  To learn about the origin of the marathon click here.

Sundays In My City

08 April 2018

What I Did Instead

It's taken me quite a while to make myself sit and write this post.  Mostly because it's still just raw and difficult.  Back in November I talked about the difficulties of my first  year in Italy.  But Jack was doing well and I was looking forward to another trip with him to the mountains to celebrate his 6-month cancer survival and my birthday.  He didn't make it.  And my heart, which was already in a million pieces over the loss of Cheyenne, was suddenly in a million more.

Oh how I miss that sweet face!!!

Our last walk.  It was cold but clear and beautiful and perfect.
I don't want to relive the whole thing but we had several wonderful days where he got to do all his favorite things including going for long walks, going for car rides and eating pizza.  I was incredibly lucky to have him for the time that I did.

For the first time in over 13 years, there were no dogs in my house.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  But I had time off work already scheduled and it was use-or-lose.  I couldn't just sit at home and I'm lucky enough to live in a place where I get travel easily.

I went to Innsbruck, Austria.  The weather was highly uncooperative as far as the spectacular mountain views were concerned.  At least, I hear there are spectacular mountain views.

There are mountains there somewhere...so I'm told.

So I tried going up the mountain and this is what I could see looking down.  It was so thick that the cable car going further up was closed and all the skiers and snowboarders were just stuck waiting around in hopes that it lifted and they could go.  
I did have an amazing apple, beet, lemon tofu salad for dinner one night.  I'd go back just to have that again!  And maybe to get a better view next time.

I went to Modena, Italy.  It's a quaint little town with almost no tourist presence which was just fine by me.  If you've seen Master of None, it's where the Italy episodes are based.  I learned the difference between tortelloni (cheese inside) and tortellini (meat inside) and that you can easily pay over $100 for a small bottle of balsamic vinegar.

I went to Garmisch, Germany.  I know it's very popular with Americans due to the Edelweiss resort but I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. I also got food poisoning so that might have clouded my impression.

I dog sat for people wanting to take trips and I've fostered a few dogs needing temporary, emergency housing.  It's getting more and more difficult to fly with pets and as much as I want to get another dog RIGHT NOW, I know I'm not ready.  Traveling helps ease the pain of being in an empty house.

I hope to get back to blogging again.  I knew that I had to write this post and I kept putting it off because I knew how difficult it would be. I promise that my next post will not contain sadness.  I'm hoping that 2018 is little kinder to my heart. 

I've been to the US twice (it was supposed to be one trip but a one-day government shutdown recalled me back to Italy and I had to go again) and I'm going next week.  I've been able to see a lot of friends (one whom I haven't seen since 2008) and family and that's been great.  Mom and Gran are coming to Portugal in June.  I have tickets to see Hamilton in London in October (I WILL conquer my dislike of that city!). I'm already working on memorizing the soundtrack :D  I'll be in Amsterdam again in 2 weeks (my return flight from the US happens to go through Amsterdam so, of course, I can't pass up the opportunity to spend a few days there). More adventures to be planned...stay tuned!

Sundays In My City