debbieahlers

Debbie and Ken's Excellent Adventure – we take off…..


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GOODBYE MONTPELLIER, HELLO IRELAND

Onto a new chapter on our trip: Ireland.

A few thoughts to wrap up our time in Montpellier, France: know we’ll be back, as it still feels like a type of “home”. We just LIVED here. Ken got a haircut (like you do at home), as it had been awhile since he had had one. Was proud of him directing the barber in French. He got a very chic and Continental cut that all the guys here in Europe are wearing.

Ken’s French haircut

Ken’s French haircut

I like it! A new look for a new beginning when we get “home” to Greenville, our new permenant town.

The other different thing while we were here was the World Cup. VERY big here and like our SuperBowl and World Series rolled into one. It is only played every 4 years and I like how the teams represent an entire country, not just a city or state. Little Croatia, with the same amount of people as WI, was in the finals with France. How cool for us to be here during that final game. France had not won the World Cup since 1998, and they wanted to win badly, against a sort of Cinderella story of Croatia upsetting all the more established teams. I’m not a big Sports fan, as most of you know, but talk about being in the right place at the right time! Had a “watch the game” party at our house, and they won!! Celebration went on practically all night and was so fun to be a part of it! Below is a view from friends’ Linda and her daughter Brecka’s place, that looks onto the main square: Le Comedie.

Celebrating French win of World Cup

France wins!

It was great to experience their joy. No police or soldiers about, no guns shooting, of course, no destruction/crowds out of hand, no violence. Just everyone celebrating and having a good time: unified. Lots of driving around the streets, hanging out of cars with the French flag and honking the horn. It went on until the wee hours. So glad we got to be here for that!

So, as we leave Montpellier, we are sad, but look forward to our Ireland experience. Feel so blessed to be able to have this trip.

Will be wrapping things up here in France over the next day or two and taking a few days to travel to Ireland…will check in when we get there. Thanks again for following me…

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LIVING IN MONTPELLIER

Food and social life is a big thing for us here and our days revolve around both those things, whether it’s meeting friends for a movie, going to a bar or going to visit Geoffrey’s winery for a tour and tasting.

Tasting at Geoffrey’s winery

Ken tasting rose

Always something to do and friends to do things with. Seems like we live here and we are comfortable. Got a pretty scheduled calendar (get togethers, card games, going out to eat with friends, etc.) until we leave Montpellier
in about a week for our next step: taking the train to Paris and then flying to Ireland to join up with our Road Scholar tour in Shannon.

So, might not write until we get to Ireland, as we are just living our lives….just like y’all are doing.

Will be in touch later and thanks again for following.


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OUR LIFE IN MONTPELLIER

Living like a local here in Montpellier and loving it.

Saw friends Michael and Odile (we had stayed at their flat last time we were here for a month…free! – nice friends!!) last night, and it was wonderful to be with them. Loved taking the tram and walking to their flat for an aperetif before we went to the restaurant. Felt so familiar. I’ve missed it all (and them!).

Went to the restaurant where we’ve been before. Small world: Geoffrey sells his wine to the Chef/Owner (Richard) there and was texted the day before to bring more of his wine, which he will do tomorrow. I went back to say “hi” to Richard and tell him that we had eaten at Geoffrey’s the previous night and had all the wines there, which we had thoroughly enjoyed. Out comes an “amuse bouche” (a little something to entertain the mouth before the meal) of avacodo mousse with coriander to our table, which Odile explains was sent by Richard due to our association with Geoffrey (guess I’m a “celebrity” friend!).

Amuse Bouche

We have a wonderful meal, sitting outside, and of course order Geoffrey’s wine.

Geoffrey’s wine

No bugs, pleasant temperature in the 70’s, with lively discussion, great food and wine, and good friends. Doesn’t get any better than this. I sigh contentedly.

We finish and walk home about 11:00PM. I am amazed how many people (mostly youngish…20’s-40’s) are still at the restaurants, even on a side street, on a Thursday night so late! Restaurants are not that cheap, so I know they have to get up in the morning to work, I assume. Montpellier is a lively place.

Thursday late

The next day we take a walk to our favorite butcher. I love how we know the routine of buying the meat, paying for it on the other side of the little shop and then going back to pick up our purchases. No fumbling or feeling like a tourist. We belong! (And I ordered practically everything in my broken French!)

Speaking of languages. We hear and see much less English spoken and/or written here as we did in Portugal, Croatia and Austria. Don’t see many tourists and/or Americans (as per their attire). Many more people of color than previously, and Michael and Odile have told us that more people from Northern Africa are coming up recently and settling here, as those areas were once colonies of France. Of course the Muslim population has been here for a few generations and we did see many Muslims shopping at the store we used to go to when we stayed with Michael and Odile 3 years ago.

We have adapted well to the French meal times: we eat breakfast at around 9-10, lunch about 2-3 and dinner late. At home that would be so different!
Now it seems normal. Of course we’re not getting up at 6 for Ken to drive the bus!

Friday night is Estivale, a weekly wine festival (of course!), where we meet BJ and walk with her to the center of town to attend. So good to see BJ, again!
We walk by the McDonald’s and she tells me the French call it McDough, but they serve wine, not surprisingly!! There are a lot of soldiers and police walking around the grounds and they check purses and back-packs to get into the festival area, which is outside. It is a beautiful night and we enjoy the wine, a picnic that BJ brings and chatting with people she knows who continually join us.

AGAIN: Small world story! One gal, my age, who joins us: Linda. She is from La Grange, IL, a suburb of Chicago where I had my first job out of Undergrad, she went to NIU, where Ken got his Undergrad and I got my Grad degree, she lived in WI in Delafield (a small town about 1/2 hour from the small town we lived in for many years), she worked in Mukwonago (where our daughters went to camp for years and our favorite WI restaurant, Heaven City, is located), she moved to someplace warm not too much before we left WI, too (her to Hawaii, us to SC), and voila! She is here now with her daughter staying for a year.
She also met our landlords, Gilles and Annie, and looked at the apartment that we are currently staying in, but it wasn’t available for when she wanted it. Too many connections!! But the biggest thing: she “gets” how I feel about Montpellier: like home, loving being here, comfortable. Think we will become good friends.

That’s it for now. Out and about today, outdoor market (like our Farmers’ markets) tomorrow and to Charlotte’s house for dinner tomorrow night. Monday a trip to see Geoffrey’s winery and vineyard. The days fly by…..


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COMING HOME TO MONTPELLIER

Even during our traveling day or two, emails are going back and forth with plans to meet up with friends in Montpellier. Our calendar for the couple of weeks we are there is filling up fast.

I am anxious to see how I like coming “home” to an old, familiar place, which, by now, feels like a second home.

Our “old” landlord picks us up at the airport. In the arrival room, there are many more armed soldiers than I remember.

We get to the flat we are renting from them and WOW!, not only a dishwasher and washer (which I expected), but a DRYER!!! What a pleasant surprise! (It is like the one in Salzburg, where you have to empty the water extracted from the clothes). Also, a little cart to take to the food shops/markets to carry all the food back in, as we will be walking. A nice, big, secluded terrace with table and chairs which I envision is where we will be drinking our morning coffee each day.

We know this area well, even though we stayed across town in previous times, as it is pretty centrally located. We walk to the main square, Le Comedie, and point out to each other places we have been to there. It feels familiar and like home. I feel so happy to be back.

It’s nice to just unpack and settle in for a few weeks. Also, to “live” and not do tourist stuff (or feel like we should as long as we’re here).

Daily scene


Off to Geoffrey’s to see his new flat (which is awesome) and to cook together again (and drink, of course). It’s great to see this “old” (he’s not much older than my daughters) friend again in person. We have a wonderful champagne and wine, all from the winery he works at (including using a new product from there: olive oil!). We eat at about 9:00 (typical French dinner time) outside on his wonderful terrace. No bugs and very pleasant out. Gets hot during the day, but low humidity, so Ken and I are comfortable. Even though we keep in touch, it was wonderful to catch up in person. So excited about all he is doing and has accomplished since we’ve been here last. He made some comment that we have only been in Montpellier since yesterday. That astounded me, as it seems like we’ve been here for months, as it is so familiar and comfortable.
I just really love being here. And did I mention that I am so happy to be here?? LOL

Not much else to say, as we just live our lives, going to the food shops daily, of course, cooking, hanging out, relaxing. Our lives have been full throttle for awhile, so this was the part of the trip that we planned to slow down a bit and take a breath. Tonight, dinner with Michael and Odile (with aperitif at their flat before we take the tram downtown to L’idee Saveurs, a restaurant we have been to before with them and thoroughly enjoyed). So looking forward to seeing them.

Tomorrow night we’re going with BJ to hang out at Estivale, a wine festival that happens every Friday night all summer. Should be fun.

More in a couple of days. Au Revoir!


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PICTURE POSTCARD COUNTRY

The days pass quickly, as we explore not only Salzburg, but the surrounding areas in Austria with our friends Dave and Heide. The entire country really looks like a picture postcard (Heide’s description, and she is right!) with its soaring Alps’ mountains, beautiful clean, clear lakes and tall trees.

Clear and clean Mt.. Lake

We hike and enjoy the environment (except for the slugs: yuck, but we don’t see too many of them).

Slug

The country really focuses on doing things in a healthy, environmentally friendly, but efficient manner. Heide, who was born and raised in Germany, points out how straight and precise, even the wood pile is stacked!

Straight woodpile

We visit a small town, Hallstatt, which is built into the side of a mountain.
Hallstatt, means “salt”, which was extremely valuable hundreds of years ago.
Hallstatt has a salt mine, besides from being very picturesque. Even “Salzburg” means salt, so you can see the influence.

Hallstatt

Sq. In Hallstatt

Heide in Hallstatt


We eat many wonderful foods that I could never remember (or even pronounce) the names of, that are delicious and unique tasting. Of course there are local beers and wines (see picture of my new favorite wine – made locally).

Favorite new wine


We take Dave and Heide out for dinner in Salzburg and eat at a wonderful restaurant, sitting outside of course. This restaurant raises its own pigs in a special manner and the pork is wonderful. Ken had a “neck steak” that was just yummy. Guess they use all of the pig. Heide was commenting how she can always tell an American because they dip their bread in olive oil! Europeans would never do that!! REALLY????

Today we went to visit a salt mine, thus acknowledging the importance of the product in the region. It was very interesting and well done (actually, this mine is just over the border in Germany (it’s like going from IL to IN when you go from Austria to Germany). The mine was 500 years old. The tour makes you wear uniforms like you were a worker, and you go into the mountain and the mine in a salt miner’s train, slide down levels, like the miners used to do, etc. I never thought about how hard it is to get salt. It was very interesting.

Ken the Salt Miner

They carve out bore holes (used to be they could clear 6 cms a day, 100 years ago, it was 2 meters/day and now with the new machinery in the last 30 years, it’s 6 meters a day!). They flood the cavern with water and then it takes years to extract the water and the salt is left. It is a long process. I will never take salt for granted again!

Tomorrow we will leave our wonderful hosts and take the train to Munich as we travel towards our next destination: Montpellier, in the south of France. We take a plane from Munich there Tuesday morning, where our old landlords, Annie and Gilles, will pick us up at the airport and bring us to the flat we are renting from them. No 4th of July celebrations over here, of course, just another day. Enjoy the holiday, All (except for my non-American friends, especially the Brits, who are reading this…LOL).

More in a few days….


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SWEET SALZBURG AND MISC. OBSERVATIONS

Yesterday was a long travel day and we were glad to see our close friends, Dave and Heide, who picked us up at the Salzburg Airport.

Their house is amazing, as is the view (they live about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg overlooking a lake and beautiful foothills). But for me, the BEST thing, was the washer and DRYER!!! (Remember, in Europe, you never see a dryer!) This dryer was interesting: it is not vented to the outside, so the water it extracts is collected and has to be emptied. I don’t care!! It works great! 🙂

DRYER!!!

Interestingly, they get their hot water from a company which supplies hot water to the entire village.

Heide and Dave take us into Salzburg, and it is beautiful. Both Ken and I have been here many years ago, but it’s fun to see it through a local’s eyes.
We start with an organ concert that’s free, in a small church. It’s actually part of a small service, so it is short, but wonderful, with the acoustics and the surrounds of the little church.

We walk around the main areas of Salzburg and enjoy Heide’s commentary (she should quit her day job and be a tour leader!). One of the stops is a cemetery. It’s different from any other I’ve been to, and no plastic flowers to be seen anywhere.

Cemetery

Afterwards, we go to a brewery and enjoy a wonderful lunch. Like we’ve seen all over Europe, the cutlery is on the table, along with the napkins in a glass or container.

Cutlery

We order beer and were introduced to how you toast when you have wheat beer, as those beers are served in a special glass (you clink bottoms of the glass). Dave explains how you pour the beer from the bottle to the glass almost draining the bottle, but at the end, the yeast settles to the bottom. You twirl the liquid in the bottom and pour it into the glass. You can see the yeast part floating throughout the glass.

Wheat beer

A few other misc. observations: most restaurants don’t give you bread, you have to pay for it (and it is GOOD), neither do they give you water. You have to order water: “still” (as opposed to carbonated/sparkling) and pay for that. It comes in a bottle, usually glass. In Salzburg, they give you a big pretzel instead of bread, and if you eat it, you pay, if you don’t touch it, you don’t. (And never dip it in mustard, like we do in the States.)

Bread substitute: Pretzel

A tip for those of you who are traveling abroad in the future: it’s really been helpful to have a “VPN”, or Virtual Private Network. You can sign up on-line and it’s very cheap, like $5 or $10/month. You can get it for when you are out of the country and then cancel when you get home. What does it do? It makes other websites in the US think you are still using your computer in the US. In other words, Ken had to pay our Duke energy bill on-line, but with WiFi in Croatia, they would not allow him access to the website to pay the bill. We activated our VPN (just a simple click) and then they thought he was in Atlanta and let him in. Hulu was the same situation (and glad I could get it as I had to keep up with my programs!).

And speaking about tipping, it’s confusing! In some places it’s 10% (be sure to leave it on the table, as if you add it to your credit card bill, it goes to the owner, not the waiter), and in France, it’s only a couple of Euro ($2 or $3, even if the bill is $100!).

We were talking about bathrooms in a previous post. Here in Salzburg, we went to a public bathroom, and not only do you have to pay, but you have to give it to the woman (50 cents), and SHE has to put the coin in the box to open the cubicle…you are not allowed to do it yourself!

Just love the simple things that are different. Here is how mustard is packaged:

Mustard

Since we’ve been on our trip for almost a month already, I had to take care of business, and get a haircut. Heide takes me to her hairdresser, and I went curly (just wanted to try something new).

Deb’s new “do”

Today exploring the lakes’ area around Salzburg and maybe exploring the mountain views. Really enjoying our time with Dave and Heide.


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VIEWS FROM THE TOP AND ANOTHER COUNTRY

A beautiful view of the Adriatic at a bar high above the cliffs of the Adriatic where people are jumping off the rocks below us into the blue, blue clean and clear sea. A pleasant breeze blowing. My friend Joanne told me about this bar, Buza, tucked underneath the city walls of the old city of Dubrovnik. A real find.

Buza bar

Under the walls to over the walls: we attempt walking around high on the city walls. 800 steps! Tip: go early in the morning or later in the day. We start at 6:00PM and it takes us almost 90 minutes. The views are phenomenal. Think it took hundreds of years to build these walls. They are thick and strong.

View from the city walls


The next day is a full day to Montenegro: a country of about 800,000, one of the smallest countries in the world. We have to go through 2 borders (leaving Croatia and entering Montenegro). We luck out , as sometimes it takes hours. We are through in 30 minutes on our tour bus. Our first stop, Perast, has beautiful fjords: the southernmost in the world, created by earthquakes, as opposed to the Norway ones that are formed by glaciers. They look similar only it’s a lot warmer here.

Perosa


On to Kotor, where we get a short guided tour and enjoy some mussels in an outdoor Cafe while enjoying the old city surrondings. It’s amazing: here we are sitting by a church that was built 850 years ago!! Hard to wrap your head around that.

850 year old church

There are lots of cats around. Why? People of Kotor love cats! During the Black Plague of the Middle Ages, the cats saved the people of Kotor by killing the rats that housed the fleas that carried the plague. They have adored them ever since. There is even a cat museum, which of course, we have to visit.

Cat Museum


On to Budva: a city of old and new. Many casinos and nightclubs in the new part with celebrities visiting. The old city is like the other old cities and picturesque. We have a delightful late lunch at 3:00 (which turned out to be our dinner, too) at Jadran, a restaurant with tables out on a pier with a beautiful breeze and unbelieveable scenery. I indulge in a wonderful glass of rose with my lunch.

A wonderful late lunch


The trip home on the tour bus (although I must admit, I’m a bit “tour bussed” out) was not fun. One of the passengers, a young woman from Japan, traveling alone, did not show up at the last stop for the trip home. She left some personal effects on her seat. Of course we were all worried about her (and this is one of my greatest fears for one for my daughters when she travels alone, especially abroad, and she knows who she is! LOL). The tour guide was young and only on the job 2 months. She really was not trained or supported by the tour company. After 2 hours and contacting the local police, we had to leave. Another 3 hours back (with 5 hours on the bus with no potty break…I snuck out once while we were on a ferry for a 5 min. crossing to the “WC” – water closet, which turned out to be a porcelain hole in the ground where you squat…at least they give you a bar to hold onto so you don’t fall in! – hey, I was desparate!). We were exhausted by the time we got home and glad we had had a big mid afternoon meal, as we just wanted to go home. A long day: 15 hours, and a lot of it on the bus, but Montenegro is gorgeous and we were glad we saw it.

A few random thoughts: I love going to the market by myself, as I feel like I’m “living” here and not a tourist. I have my own bag (they never give you bags in Europe, and if they do, in many places, you have to pay for them) and I know where everything is in the tiny market. The environment of the streets and sidewalks are so different than at home. I just love being here in Europe.
I feel so lucky to be doing this. Even looking for where we have to toss the garbage is an adventure! (Sorry, here it’s called the “removals”)

This afternoon, a visit to the Synagogue (only about 45 Jews here in Dubrovnik and at its peak during WWII, 300 Jews, all confined to one block where the Temple is, with now a Jewish museum. Just a side note: when the heads of Dubrovnik realized the contributions the Jews could make (doctors, other professionals with connections and money), they allowed them to participate more and even have an extra block to live in.

We will also explore some steps near our flat to climb over to look at the beaches. Everyone of the views here are spectacular.

Tomorrow a travel day to Salzburg to see and stay with some old friends who have moved there permentally.

The travel arrangements are a little choppy tomorrow, so wish us luck!