September 4/08 Thursday
Last night I fell fast asleep and had a real sound sleep. Woke up at 4:30, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Charlie woke at 7 and got dressed. I have to say this, the breakfast buffet was excellent and the coffee was exquisite. We left out baggage in the baggage room and headed for the market where we bought the tour tickets. I won’t say any more about the entire Eagle’s Nest experience except to say it was worth every penny and more.
They have between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors each season. To keep the record straight, Hitler never spent a night here. It was strictly for meetings and to be somewhere quiet. It was given to him as a present on his 50th birthday by the party. Geez, I even saw one guy in a wheelchair. Smacked of a pilgrimage. It was wonderful to say the very least. It’s way up there in the clouds. The changing of buses was my first clue. They are state of the art and everybody is talking on a cell so as to avoid each other on the way up. The buses are equipped with special brakes due to the steepness and the ess curves.
After getting off bus number two, we are escorted through a long tunnel, then into a brass-surround elevator. When you get off, you have arrived. You walk through a dining room and then outside. The view is breathtaking. The walk up to the cross is tough – straight uphill. I had an asthma attack and had to stop and use my puffer. After a few moments, I was OK to proceed. Charlie who had been smoking since the age of 14 and only quit a few short years ago, is like a mountain goat. He wasn’t even breathing heavily. Goes to show you, if you’re going to get it you will. If not, you won’t. End of story.
The worst thing I could say about the tour – it was nowhere near long enough. I could have spent all day at the Eagle’s Nest. Instead, we were only given 30 minutes. Then we had to leave to let the other tours through. After we came back down to Berchesgaden, we had lunch. We also bought a book on the Eagle’s Nest and then it was time to leave. Total length – 4 1/2 hours.
A word to the wise, if you’re going to visit the Eagle’s Nest, be prepared to be soaked. OK the cost isn’t bad – €50/person but the accommodations are expensive. I mean, this is the city of tours, besides Eagle’s Nest, there is the Sound of Music Tour, the Salt mines Tour, the Kőnigsee Tour, to name a few. All the tour guides speak perfect English along with several other languages.
When we were back in Salzburg, we got our luggage from the luggage room and walked to the train station where I bought 2 first-class tickets to Graz. 1st class is definitely better. Much bigger seats and not so many people. I bought a cheap telephone to use in Austria from T-Mobile. I called Fritz to say we’re on the train.
What a great country. You can smoke in most places. If not, there is a sign to say so. I guess they figure people are responsible enough to make their own choices. They do not have a Nanny government. That’s what I call a democracy. It’s more than a one vote thing – it’s a whole philosophy of personal choices. It works for them. Hell, in Slovenia, the gas station beside our hotel had a lovely cafέ with a bar. You could have a drink if you wanted. I never saw anyone drunk – that would show a weak character and they would not tolerate that. Personal choices, that’s what democracy should be.
September 3/08 Wednesday
Hansi came to pick us up at 7AM to drive us to Lubljana and train station to Salzburg. We had breakfast at McDonald’s. Sure is different from home McDonald’s here. It had a cafe feel with nice tables and chairs. Awesome coffee and they brought our Big Mac’s to the table. I bought tickets – 2nd class – I thought I’d try it out. After all, we’re not going far. Hansi stayed with us until we boarded the train. What a guy.
There were a group of of students on the train. I am guessing they were going to Munich to school. They were cute and full of giggles. We had a hell of a time lifting those big sucker suitcases on the rack. The train ride was nice. Very scenic. Charlie had not seen the alps before this. He was in awe – in total awe. I was glad we had the opportunity to see for ourselves. I used to tell him about the high medows and how the Rockies didn’t have them and that Alpine country was far different. Now, he saw for himself.
When we got to Salzburg, Charlie had the bright idea to walk to the hotel from the train station. It must have been 90F. We were sweating buckets. My feet hurt and I was mad at him. Got into hotel. What a rip-off. The room was so tiny, it was giving me claustrophobia. I nearly tripped over the step to go into the bathroom. Never mind. It’s only one night, €140. What a rip.
We were right pissed off but decided to go outside and look for a place to eat. We found one – The Pitter Keller. €46.80 and worth every penny. We felt better then. It was lovely, a courtyard with a canopy of trees. Really lovely. Tomorrow is the Eagle’s Nest Tour. That’s why we’re here.
Charlie and I were watching TV when I thought I heard a knock at the door. I ran to see if it was who I hoped it was. Yes, Arnold stood there so tall and slender. Oh my, he looked wonderful. The coat he could hardly close the last time I saw him wear it was way too big on him now. The shoulders hung down and he could wrap himself in it.
We had a light dinner and away we went. It was so great – just the two of us heading to Niagara Falls and getting ready for the 5K on Sunday. It was raining all the way to Niagara. It was dark, of course. We had such nice chats that the miles slipped by quickly. We got to the Best Western Fireside Hotel at around 9 PM, unpacked and went out to shop for supplies such as water, nuts, orange juice, etc. He takes a lot of stuff. All kinds of protein bars and pills for this and that. I’d never seen so much stuff. We then set up the table in the room as food/drink table and proceeded to get ready for bed. Well, by the time we turned on the TV it was after 10 and we watched Leno. I fell asleep after a while, and woke up around 5:30. I couldn’t sleep anymore so decided to have a shower, make coffee and check my email. I thought I was being quiet but I guess not quiet enough and I got a scolding from Arnold later. He needs his sleep to be in good form for the race.
When he got up at around 7, we proceeded out towards the Falls, parked the car, and he took off jogging. I hung around for a while, then walked up the stairs to the “Secret Garden Café” I wanted to know where the registration was being held for the race. Well, I discovered it was the big Casino Hotel right across from the Horseshoe Falls. I walked back down and in the meantime about an hour had passed. But I looked and saw Arnold jogging towards me.
We drove back to the hotel, he bathed and dressed and we headed back to the Casino. We saw this restaurant inside. I don’t mind telling you, I was hungry. By this time, it’s about 10. Arnold was hungry too. We ordered. He had an eggwhite omelet with smoked salmon and spinach. This huge platter arrived with the best home fries ever and 4 pieces of rye bread AND peameal bacon. I ordered the French toast but wanted to know if I could have softly scrambled eggs too. She said yes and came back with two platters. Oh my. I looked in amazement but poured the maple syrup over my French toast and proceeded to make a pig of myself. Arnold didn’t even finish his omelet and had some of the toast without the butter. I was very impressed. He didn’t touch the bacon. Well, you should have seen me polish off the eggs and French Toast. I had a little of his home fries but was not able to manage the bacon so I asked for a doggie bag, leaving Arnold really embarrassed.
We then went for the registration and he shopped for stuff. There was great excitement in the air. Lots of runners buying lots of things. Everyone was pumped. Arnold went for a massage. I walked out to look at the scenery. God, it was so beautiful from where I stood. Music was playing outside. Every pillar and post had music coming from it. Everybody looked so happy.
I went back in to where we had agreed to meet. We decided to go back to the hotel and unpack things. By that time it was about 1pm and he wanted soup. So back we drove, and this time we parked in the duty-free lot. We walked over to the Hard Rock Café and sat down. He ordered Artichoke Dip and soup. I had most of the dip although he did have some. OK, time to go back to the hotel and relax. We walked to the parking lot and got in the car.
Wait! We couldn’t find an exit. Where we came in is only for Entrance. Where is the Exit? We followed a van, figuring he knew where he was going. We figured we’d do a U-turn and proceed to the hotel.
Wrong! We had to go to the US before we could do a U-turn. Well, the guy at the border asked us all these questions. We had to do some real talking before he gave us the OK to proceed. He said we had to go through and turn around somewhere and come back. We did that. At the first light, we turned right and made a quick U-turn. We hung a left at the lights and headed back to Canada. We had to pay $3.50 toll to get on the bridge. Next we proceeded to customs where a very attractive young woman gave us a bit of a third-degree. She asked how long we had been out of Canada. Arnold answered “about a minute and a half”. He then went on to explain what happened and made sure to tell her we made a legal U-turn, to which she responded with “I don’t care what you did over there” and she said to go ahead. We laughed at our stupidity and headed back to the hotel. Hey, but it was pretty good. We parked for $3.50. But we wouldn’t do it again.
That night we were to go to a “Pasta Party”. Arnold wanted to rest a bit first. When we got the party at the Casino, most people were already seated. It was a huge banquet hall. We gave our tickets, grabbed a couple of plates and piled on salad, legumes, and pasta. It was great but I know that runners are supposed to fill up on carbs the night before a race. We then sat down at a table of very nice people. We ended up talking to the folks from Ohio. He was 39 and weighed 119 lbs. He was running the marathon the following day. We had a nice conversation. They were a very sweet couple.
After dinner we had a very inspiring speech from the founder of the “Running Room”. He was terrific. He introduced people from various parts of the world. As I sit writing this, I remember that my son listed his residence as Mississauga and, as a result, did not get introduced as a person who traveled far to come to this race. After the speeches and the slide show, we bid our farewells, everyone wishing everyone else a good run the following day. We got back to the hotel and got ready for bed. I was asleep shortly after 8PM.
I woke up at about 6:00 feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. I lay there not wanting to wake Arnold. After all, I had received that lecture about how important it was for him to have his sleep. He stirred about that time swearing that he hadn’t slept all night. He then got up and dressed and went out to feel the cold. It was about 38 Fahrenheit.
Meanwhile, I showered and dressed. I had coffee and was ready for the day. He came back and said he was going to wear his cold weather gear. He looked great. We got in the car and drove to the first set of parking spaces. He had actually wanted me to drop him and then park the car but I’m not insured to drive his rental, so I refused. As a result, he said he’d go on ahead. I said sure. So there I was – a heavy purse over one shoulder (because I had 2 full water bottles in it), my camera bag on my back and my tripod in my hand. I was mother, the pack mule. I followed him as long as I could see him. I had no idea I’d be walking so far. At times, I lost sight of him. At times, I spotted him.
All at once, he was gone. I thought he might have boarded the bus I saw him by. I walked and walked. When I got to the bus, I got on thinking I’d find him there. It turned out to be a bus full of Oriental tourists. Even the bus driver was Oriental. He said. “wrong bus – wrong bus”. I got off. I kept walking, once in a while asking people where the 5K started. Most didn’t know. I looked at my watch. It was 9AM. Next time I looked, it was 9:15. I kept walking. I spotted a couple of girls jogging and asked them where the 5K was. They pointed the way. I kept going and pretty soon, I saw the tents and the people and finally, Arnold. It was 9:20. He was delighted. Hell, I was delighted. He took off his top shirt and handed it to me. I looked for the place where they would be starting and finally found it.
I set up my tripod. I got a couple of shots of him at the starting line. And then they were away to the cheers of the spectators. I grabbed my stuff and went to the finish line. I set up again. I waited and noticed the battery had gone dead. Damn. I took it out of the camera and placed it in my hand to warm up. When I popped it back in, it worked again. Luckily, I was able to take four pictures of him crossing the finish line. They were all dark and
almost in silhouette. Damn. Forgot to use the flash.
Well, after all the excitement and the medals and a few more pictures, we were off again. We walked back to the car. I tell you, I schlepped enough for one day. Now it’s time to bask in the afterglow. Arnold was delighted with how he did. He had shaved off 4.5 minutes off his personal best and came in 4th in his age group. That is just amazing. After all, he had just lost 90 pounds since June and had only started running then. I am so proud of him.
After Arnold showered etc., we went to the “Secret Garden” to have lunch. More food. Oh joy. Well, we hadn’t had breakfast.
Pretty soon it was time to pack and head back. I wanted to take pictures in Queenston but he wanted to see his grandmother in the Home. So, to Hamilton we headed.
Mother’s face was all dry. I put on my lotion first and then the Nivea cream. I pointed the problem out to the nurses. I plucked her chin. Arnold kept holding her hand and talking to her. He massaged her back. She liked it and asked him to do more. He kept massaging. He is so gentle with her. After about thirty minutes, we kissed her good-bye and left.
Arnold said “It’s hard to see her like this but I prefer it to not seeing her at all”.
We got home about 5PM. Charlie had the salmon all ready to go. I prepared the asparagus. We ate and then sat around and chatted. It had been a most eventful weekend.
We got up and dressed. Arnold wanted to go running and I wanted to accompany him on my bike. I took him through the park. He ran around 3 miles that morning. Then it was time to pack, shower and leave. We will be together again come Christmas – at least, Boxing Day. My Christmas will begin when I see him walking through the door.
You can say that again. Ah, Belize, the name sounds exotic, doesn’t it? More exotic than its former name, British Honduras. Cold, clinical, matter-of-fact. No, make mine Belize. Better yet, make mine Chaa Creek Rainforest Reserve in Belize. A tropical Nirvana to ease our February blues and warm our snow-capped hearts. I was looking for a civilized jungle to chill out in, not just another hotel on a beach. To be specific, I wanted adventure travel. An adventure travel vacation is an active one and you’re not as likely to put on weight when you’re active. Nobody wants to come home fat. Furthermore, you have more fun and gather more memories when you’re doing things.
A little history here for those who care – from 250 to 900 A.D., the Maya built temples, carved fantastic artwork from stone and jade, made astonishing discoveries in mathematics and astronomy, and devised the most sophisticated writing systems in the Americas. Like ancient Egypt and Greece, they morphed into something completely different. Where they once lived in large urban centres, today you will find them living mostly in small villages scattered around Belize. Times change. But I digress.
We were up to our eyeballs in sleet and snow, one weekend last February. I decided to grab my husband and whisk him off to Chaa Creek for a week in this Garden of Eden. What an experience. The week flew by. We could have stayed a month. We were so relaxed and happy there – just like we had been on our honeymoon, so many years ago. The accommodations are beyond beautiful. The food is gourmet all the way and, although not the cheapest place you’ll ever stay, it is excellent value for money. We took advantage of some of what the resort had to offer. To experience everything, you need a lot more time than a week. I guess we’ll just have to come back.
We stayed in the treetop suite. It was quite large with a queen bed, a sunken living-room area, and a wraparound deck fitted with a sunken Jacuzzi. We overlooked acres and acres of jungle as far as the eye could see, while sipping our morning coffees. The mornings were clear and cool. The air so fresh and clean. I never sneezed. Not even once. Evenings, we enjoyed the Jacuzzi, enjoying the freedom of getting naked and splashing in our very own pool.
I accompanied my husband to the Mayan ruins. We spent hours there, walking, exploring. It was exhausting but something we had to do while we were there. The next day we went horseback riding. (We had quite the time getting him on his horse. He’d never ridden before.) It had been several years since I’d been on horseback so you can imagine that when we finally dismounted after a couple of hours of being bounced around on spirited steeds and enjoying the spectacular scenery, it took us quite some time to get our legs together. The attendants laughed. We laughed too while walking with bowed legs. Not to worry, a cocktail or two later, the stiffness dissipated.
At the end of each day, we traded stories with fellow guests while sipping wonderful concoctions created by our bartender, Raphael. We met some wonderful people. They came from around the world. A couple from Germany, another couple from China, still another from Oakville, which is like twenty minutes from us. Small world. Not only did we trade stories of our adventures du jour but we also learned a lot from each other’s lives. It was an experience of the body and the soul.
I am an avid photographer so I thought I’d died and gone to digital heaven. At least there was no fear of running out of film. I took thousands of shots. I wanted to preserve this adventure as much as possible.
I’m glad we did this although it wasn’t cheap. I think I said that before, didn’t I? After all, we work hard all year; it is our duty to reap the rewards and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
We woke up that morning with temperatures already around 80F but low humidity and clear skies. We packed up the car and headed out of town. The drive was without incident and pretty soon we were in the country, heading east toward Kingston, Smiths Falls, Portland and the family reunion.
As the morning progressed, the temperatures rose, as did the humidity. By the time we got to the docks in Portland, it was 94F and felt like 108F. I called the house to say we were here. The reception was very statically but they heard us and told us Chris was on his way. About that time Elizabeth and husband arrived and then another cousin and child. We filled the boat with people and gear. The boat sat 8 and, with the gear and all, we came fully loaded.
When we neared the dock, they were all standing there waving and happy to greet us. We got out one by one and there was a lot of hugs and cries of welcome. Gord and Pam were already there as were Arthur and Helen.
I didn’t know what to expect. Charlie always spoke in such passionate terms about his mother’s family. My late mother-in-law was a “proper” woman. She didn’t have a lot of warmth about her but I always had the feeling she’d have been a riot had we met 40 years ago and had been around the same age. After all, she had lived with a bunch of artists while studying nursing in Toronto. There had to be many stories there but I never heard even one. Think about it, she did not marry until she was 30. That was back in 1937. A woman of 30 would have been an old maid for sure.
OK, back to the rest of the mother’s family. First of all, they are all university graduates. Several of them are PhD’s. They are economists, professors and the like. So, I did not know what to expect but, to my surprise, they were more down to earth than most people I’d ever known. There were buckets of beer, wine and the like. What a great bunch they were. They wore shorts, tees and funny hats. They smoked like chimneys. They were there to have a good time. Period.
I had brought 2 pans of lasagna, marinara sauce and grated cheese. Everybody brought stuff. There was enough food to feed an army. All kinds of snacks, salads, cheeses – the list goes on. More Pictures
We talked and laughed and I took lots of pictures, as much for me as for them. After the sun started to come down, Ellie brought us back to shore by boat. We headed on to Smiths Falls to The Best Western. We got a room on the main floor. We schlepped our bags to our room and the first thing I did was crank the air up. The heat was evil as was the humidity and, did I mention the mosquitoes? I took a long cool shower and it felt sooooooo good. I wanted some ice and water and pop so I went out in the hall wearing only PJ’s and got them from the vending machine. We turned on the TV and relaxed. I must say the only thing spoiling this wonderful country are the damned mosquitoes. Shit. They’re everywhere – by the millions, make that zillions. And it’s not just the mosquitoes, there are a lot of other bugs too. Huge horse flies and the like, also gnats that bite. I mean, it’s dangerous especially at sundown. That’s when they come out and make our lives miserable.
Back at the hotel, Charlie was so very tired. He had driven for almost 4 hours to get to the dock by the island. With all the excitement at seeing his beloved island again for the first time in 50 years, it was just too much for him. By the time the day was done, he was all done in and who could blame him? We hit the bed and it didn’t take long before we fell dead asleep.