Love is in the Air!

Locks of all kinds bedeck this bridge in Salzburg, placed by lovers, as a symbol of their undying love.

While happily traipsing through Europe, with my daughter and her friend, I noticed something.

Everywhere we went, the air was balmy and fresh, but that wasn’t it.

There was an extra bounce to my step, thanks to being in a new place with new things to see everyday.

But, that wasn’t it.

There was chocolate everywhere. Chocolate at the drop of a hat, in all sizes and flavors.

Yet, that wasn’t it.

I was stress free, for the first time in months, with all the trials and tribulations of work behind me. I was free as a bird, to come and go as I please. To take lunch whenever we wanted and to stay up as long as we wanted. No pressure—just fun! Doing all we could to squeeze one more sight-seeing opportunity into every day.

No, that wasn’t it.

We were content and refreshed and didn’t give a second thought to our sore feet as we kept moving purposely, deliberately, exploring these amazing cities with all their charm and vibrant history.

Nope, not it.

I know!

Love was in the air! Amore! Amor! Amour! Liebe!

Everywhere we went in these exotic, storybook cities, with mountains as far as the eye could see, warm, lusty beaches stretching before us, gargoyles tucked in every corner, musicians serenading us with romantic songs of yore, and with statues celebrating the grandeur of Europe, there was something to behold.

There was love. Love flitting about, here and there. Old lovers and young, parents and children. Yes, that’s what I noticed.

See for yourself!

Flower petals on the sidewalk in honor of a bride and groom.

A happy couple in Prague. Behind them is the Astronomical Clock. It tells the current time, and relates the movement of the planets through the signs of the zodiac. Paintings by Josef Mánes.

Another day, another joyous couple in Prague’s Old Town.

Love was in the air, including the love of a parent for their child.

And one more:

This little cutie in Salzburg may be one of the Von Trapp descendants for all I know, but the way her mother held her, and the precious outfit she was wearing, made her too adorable for words.

So, would you agree? Is love in the air or is it my imagination?

The Hills are Alive!

Salzburg proved to be my favorite city on our European tour. It is where much of The Sound of Music film was made.

If you were to ask me what are my top ten films of all time, I’d be hard pressed to give you just ten. Chances are, by tomorrow, I’d have a different top 10, because, frankly, there are so many great films out there. Besides, my list would undoubtedly change, depending on my mood.  But there’s one film that will always be in my top 10:

The Sound of Music

That’s why, for me, the hills are always alive!  And, when I close my eyes, I’m forever 16 going on 17. When I take a walk with Henry, I’m really climbing every mountain, searching high and low. And, I always have confidence that spring will come again, while my favorite things will always be snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.

Yes, I love everything about this film—the music, the story, the children, and the house they lived in. The first time I saw it, as a child, I recall how I especially loved the Von Trapp children.

Of course, my favorite was Angela Cartwright who played Brigitta. She was the only one of the kids I recognized from TV. She was already a household name, as one of the stars of a popular sitcom called, Make Room for Daddy, featuring Danny Thomas as the dad. I thought she was totally cute and would make the perfect friend, should I ever run into her in Queens, which, alas, I never did.

I also remember developing a deep crush on Christopher Plummer who played the Captain. OMG, those stern, narrow eyes that twinkled the moment he realized he was in love with Maria. That half smile and the uniform he wore. That whistle! Thinking about him still gives me goose bumps. Sigh.

Yes, I just adore The Sound of Music! Which is why, when I was planning my trip to Europe I decided I had to make a stop in Salzburg just so I could take The Sound of Music tour.  And, hands down, it was one of the highlights of my trip!

After all, that movie was released in 1965, and the tour remains one of the most popular activities for visitors to Salzburg, with several different tours offered, but only one is the original tour. Not being one to accept substitutions, that’s the tour I took.

Yet, it turns out, that Austrians, particularly those who live in Salzburg, are not as fond of the film as the rest of the world is. For them, having seen a documentary version of the Von Trapp family story, produced in Germany before the film came out, they have no interest in a film they consider a fictionalized version of the Von Trapp story.

But, I don’t give a hoot whether the Rogers and Hammerstein version is real or not. If you ask me, The Sound of Music has it all—music, drama, humor, suspense, romance, gorgeous scenery, curtains for making outfits to frolic in, and Nazis.

Besides, the Von Trapp family were real, weren’t they?  So that makes the film true enough, in my estimation. Or at least, as Stephen Colbert might say, there’s some “truthiness” to the tale.

The Sound of Music will live eternally in the hearts of millions all over the world, including this Latina from Queens, who, upon arriving in Salzburg looked for the nearest hill to climb, so that I could belt out the opening song, but all I could find at the train station was an escalator.

Good enough, I thought, as I stepped on the moving stairs and broke out in song,

“The hills are alive with the sound of music!”

Well, so much for my moment in the sun. Herewith, some photos from our Sound of Music tour:

The tour begins!

Maria splashes the water in this fountain while singing, “I Have Confidence.”

The gazebo, which was built by the film crew, was left as a gift to Salzburg after production ended. The interior dance shots were filmed in a studio, as the gazebo itself was not big enough to accommodate all that prancing around.

My daughter and her friend, who accompanied us on our trip, reenact a scene from the “Do-Re-Mi” number.

Recognize this shot from the film?

The home used in a scene depicting the rear exterior of the Von Trapp house.

The only interior scene actually shot in Salzburg was the one in which Maria and the Captain marry.

The hills really are alive!

This cemetery inspired the set where the Von Trapp family is hiding from the Nazis, and Rolfe, the messenger boy blows the whistle on them. The actual scene was filmed on a set in Hollywood.

And one more:

I once told you that I love statues. I snapped this picture right after a storm, in the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria and the children performed, “Do-Re-Mi.”

If you’ve ever been to Salzburg, I’d love to know what you thought of this city. But if you haven’t been here, is there a place you’re hankering to visit, where one of your favorite films was made?

Four Cities, Three Gals, Two Weeks

Four cities, 14 days. Three gals on a journey of a lifetime.

Did I have what it takes to make the most of it all? Was I ready for the time of my life? And, when all was said and done, did any of the cities we visited become my favorite?

If you ask me, Henry was on to me and my imminent departure. I think he had an allergy flareup as a way to get me to stay. The fiend!

Yes, yes. and heck, yes!

Being an honorary Girl Scout, I was ready. My ducks were all in a row. Indeed, having started planning this trip months in advance, I prepared and trained for this European vacation with the utmost precision, one befitting well, um, Captain Von Trapp, whistle and all. I kept countless lists of all I would need to do prior to departure. Passport? Copy of passport? Check and check!

I was determined that nothing would go wrong. I paid all my bills in advance. I arranged for a friend to water the plants in my patio. I even made a trip to my local Target store to purchase the necessary toiletries, making sure all were under three ounces.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, I asked a number of friends for advice on traveling abroad. (Thanks, Ashley, Trisha, Christine, Bella, Susan and Clare!)

I left a copy of my itinerary with my son (who never even looked at it!), along with thorough instructions on the care and keeping of Henry. I also contacted Henry’s vet to let his office know, that in the event of any unforeseen mishap, my son would have the authority to make all decisions on Henry’s behalf. I then gave them my credit card number, in case of emergency expenses.

My daughter (seen here at Park Güell) was climbing the walls, having already spent six weeks in Barcelona by the time I arrived. Just kidding. She loved it there!

I also made sure my trust was in order, and then proceeded to get all weepy as I told my son where I keep all the important documents, in the event of, well, anything. Of course, I reminded him of my desire to be cremated, in the event that my plane didn’t make it across the pond. After all, I found it unfathomable that a plane could make a ten-hour journey without stopping for gasoline! My son, the compassionate soul that he is, just stared blankly at me and shrugged.

Then, I did what every traveler does prior to departure. I packed, keeping in mind what my daughter, who was already in a Barcelona study abroad program, advised. Pack lightly! A daunting task, if you ask me, given I am fond of having all the comforts of home wherever I go.

To save space in my suitcase, my friend, Susan, said she’d heard that some people pack just two pairs of underwear and alternate. At first, I wondered, exactly how much space does underwear take, that I should only pack two? I assumed what she’d heard, but didn’t mention, was to pack two pairs and wear the other 12 on the plane. Not the most comfortable way to travel, mind you, but I was up for the challenge.

When the day came to board the plane, I was ready. Which is when Henry had an unexpected bout with allergies (clearly, he was allergic to my impending departure), and I had to make the decision whether to take him to the vet and hope they’d see him without an appointment (he’s Henry, after all!), which could have the potential of leaving me with barely enough time to go through security and board the plane. Or, I could leave it to my son to handle once he dropped me off at the airport. I chose the latter.

Six days later (well, actually, 24 hours later but it sure felt like six days!), I arrived at my first destination: the London Heathrow Airport, which was all abuzz with Olympic fever, and where I spent every minute of a two-hour layover maneuvering my way through the maze, the crowds, the security, etc, in order to get from one gate to the next.

The view from atop Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s finest achievements.

And, before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle,” I was headed to Barcelona–exhausted and damp with perspiration–to meet my daughter and a friend she had met through her study abroad program, who would be traveling with us.

Together, the three of us would leave Barcelona and traipse across Europe. And, by Europe, I mean Vienna, Salzburg and Prague, all cities rich with history and chocolate. Yes, the world was our oyster–and we had lots of ground to cover!

But first, there was the matter of ice.

Turns out, I love ice. Have a thing for it, really. But, ice could be the very thing that separates Americans from the Europeans. The line in the sand, if you will. And, the lack of it had the potential to cause an international incident.

For, like Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. And, by Kansas I mean, the USA. But, I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

Did all my planning guarantee nothing would go wrong? And, what was my favorite city?

Well, all will soon be revealed.
In the meantime, tell me. How do you prepare for a long trip?

Euro Traveller Extraordinaire

Guess who’s back?

It’s me!

Actually, I’m writing this as I make the last leg of my trip, and I’m heading home! After all, after weeks of traveling, home is where the heart is. Home is where I hang my hat.

This is a chocolate waffle concoction, served with gelato, from a little shop in Barcelona.

And, as it turns out, I’m a Euro Traveller! At least, that’s what British Airways called me as I  traveled within the European continent. By that, I assumed they meant that I carried lots of Euros with me. Which, technically, I did not!

Though, I did start out with plenty of euros at the beginning of my journey, but all those pretty postcards, and bookmarks did add up and I just had to have that adorable little mosaic-sculpted owl from Barcelona (so reminiscent of Gaudi, after all). That owl is sure to look perfect in my ever-growing owl collection.

A slice of Sacher Torte from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, where the dessert was invented.

Then, there were the pair of Italian shoes, a genuine leather purse for my daughter, a couple of tote bags with the names of the cities we were visiting emblazoned on them, a picture book of the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona–the most visually stunning architectural achievement ever created, if you ask me. Not to mention all the meals–croissants, meats, seafood, bottles of “still” water, Sacher tortes—along with public transportation fees, water closet fees, and one delightfully bouncing wooden bumble bee on a spring coil, which I couldn’t resist, and refuse to discuss further.

And, of course there were the chocolates. Ah, chocolate!

As English comedienne Jo Brand once said, “Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.”

And, she should know. She’s from the continent that specializes in all things chocolate. If you ask me, if there’s one thing Europeans know how to make, it’s chocolate. In America, we eat chocolate that can’t hold a candle to its European counterpart. Much of ours seems to be a blander version of their chocolate, and, frankly, I wonder if you can legally call what the big candy companies in the states sell here, chocolate, particularly when it has so many other ingredients, such as emulsifiers, artificial flavors and the like.

Even the European version of the popular American candy, Kit Kat, tastes better. Tres chocolatey, if you ask me. Those Europeans take their chocolate seriously and accept no substitutions in their ingredients.

Which is why our suitcases were stocked with chocolate to last us the coming year. Chocolate bars,

From a chocolate shop in Salzburg.

biscuits, fudge, truffles, cookies, bark, wafers, you name it. Dark, bitter, semisweet, milk, fondant, and even my least favorite, white. All the colors of the chocolate rainbow. And when it comes to chocolate with nuts, the nut of choice, hands down, is hazelnut.

Plus, chocolate makes great gifts for all my chocoholic friends. (There’s one with your name on it, Trisha!)

We procured so many chocolates while in Prague that it earned us two free passes to the Chocolate Museum, which was headed by a snappy Czech, looking rather Willy Wonkish in his big chef hat and white apron, and red ascot.

Which is why I don’t have any euros left, or, for that matter, korunas (which is the currency used in the Czech Republic), except for a few coins. I still have my American money, but, turns out, they’re useless in these parts, and not worth as much as the euro. I also have one pound, a leftover of my trip to London seven years ago, which I brought with me because I knew I’d have a stopover in London and perhaps have time to get a Summer Olympic souvenir.

In Prague, this Belgian waffle on a stick is served with either dark, milk or white chocolate.

So, British Airways may call me a Euro Traveller, but, as it turns out, all they really mean is that I’m traveling within the European continent, which I did twice. First, when I boarded a plane from London to Barcelona, and then another from Prague to London. Soon I’ll be boarding my flight back to the states. And, according to British Airways, that makes me a “World Traveller!”

I can’t wait to be officially back and regale you with stories of my adventures abroad, including my bizarro, Fawlty Towers experience, and my never-ending search for ice.

But let me unpack, and gather my bearings. Let’s hope jet lag doesn’t overtake me. Think of me as one of those astronauts who’s been away from the planet for an extended period and now must remain in a holding pattern before resuming life as I once knew it: Blogging away!

And while I’m busy, ahem, with these other matters, and sorting through the over 1,200 photos I took, I will resume reading your blogs and playing catch up wherever possible, and hoping you’ll forgive me if I miss a few.

All I need now is someone to pass me a shovel so I can unload all the chocolate from the suitcases. And, while I’m doing this, please take a moment to let me know what you’ve been up to, and please leave a link to any of your favorite posts that I may have missed while I was away.