Confessions of a Tech Weenie

photo intervention

The intervention took place on Jan. 19, 2019. A segment of The Today Show featuring two bloggers had just ended, when JC* turned to me and said “…You’ve got what it takes. That should have been you on the show…” Mr. Wiz* chimed in and mentioned that because I am not on social media, my chances for that opportunity would be limited. Once JC was brought up to speed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, she was more determined than ever to convince me that I needed to stop over thinking and start doing. Mr. Wiz concurred, secretly happy that my phobia was finally out in the open and topic for conversation.

Memories of my high school years flashed before me, when JC would help me to circumvent my reluctance to try anything new until I was able to analyze it thoroughly. She’d stand outside each store in the mall, egging me on until I was hired for my first part time job. She never said that I shouldn’t be a flight attendant or a teacher, but mentioned that I had talents that might steer me in a different direction. That and the suggestion that I take a summer job as a waitress in preparation for some of my airline duties and consider my patience levels with a class of children made me rethink my career path.

Interventions are never comfortable. Being confronted by my two biggest fans and supporters, I could see that I was in denial. Part of me knew that I had to take that big leap to be successful, while my stubborn side was convinced that I could do it my way, not realizing that only Frank Sinatra had that luxury.

This became cause for introspection. Was it fear of failure or fear of success that was holding  me back? If I could positive think myself into so many successful situations, why not this one? Yes, I knew what had to be done. I would remind myself that if I was able to master so many assorted computer skills in times past, why would I let it intimidate me now? I reassured myself that my concern about the extra time it would take to achieve social media success could be side stepped by one touch of my alarm to an earlier wake up time. It was time to get my moxie back on.

Now that I’ve officially made myself accountable by confessing my shortcomings and stating my goals, there’s nothing to do, but get going. But, before I do, I’m going to take a moment, close my eyes and imagine myself sitting across from Savannah and Hoda, charming them with my witty banter and not looking the worse for wear due to the compulsory early morning wake-up call for all Today Show guests. And, to all you Facebook, Instagram and Twitter enthusiasts out there, I’ll see you on the other side.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Paper: Cutting to the Chase

photo paper

Good luck explaining Rock Paper Scissors to a millennial

Big A* and his cohorts looked puzzled. On a recent visit, I asked if anyone could use a file cabinet. We had an extra and thought someone might be interested. “…What do you use it for, Mrs. T? … asked one of our guests politely. As I started to explain that we keep files of all our important papers in it, I suddenly realized by their blank stares, that they had no use for this large metal contraption placed before them; millennials keep no paper. If they hold on to it at all, they scan it, take a photo of it, save it to a computer file or onto a disk.

I think they are missing out on a whole tactile experience. Technology has robbed them of such memorable experiences. There is always the excitement of choosing just the right notebook, then writing on the very first page. I’m never sure which I enjoy most; tearing open a letter that I’ve received or taking the time to send one. I can still remember how important I felt each time I would send my new European pen pal a letter on that special tissue like paper with the envelope that read “Airmail” in red and blue letters.

My prize collection of those free, small give away calendars at the Hallmark stores dates back to my teen years. Mention a year, any year and I can tell you exactly what I did each day. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent making paper airplanes or those folded puzzles that, when placed on your fingers, would tell your fortune (solely based on what you had just written on the corners). Remembering how I would while away the hours with my father and grandfather playing Hangman and Tic-tac-toe always makes me smile.

Just for fun, ask a millennial where their local library is and they will look at you quizzically. They do not know the giddiness felt when the bestselling book you are dying to read is sitting right on the shelf where it should be. Or, the feel of the book, with its shiny cover and crisp pages, as you open it to start reading, and the regret, as you finish the last page and reread the book jacket a few times, not willing to say goodbye to the characters as yet. Watching Mr. Wiz* take such pride in lining up his books from a favorite author in chronological order on our bookshelves makes me wonder if we will ever trade in our library cards for the somewhat sterile reality of online books.

Millennials are busy people. With no bookshelves to dust, no worries about running out of checks or whether they have the right wrapping paper for the occasion, they can rest on their laurels, work hard, play even harder and let their laptops do the labor. Unlike them, we may have to Band-Aid a few paper cuts once in a while, but that’s a small price to pay for the pleasure that only paper can bring.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service

photo customer service

Around these parts, and to family and friends, I am known as “The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service”. Just as a dog will not let go of his bone (come to think of it, I also have trouble releasing a half-eaten prime rib bone), I will chase you down with all that I’ve got.

It all started back when JC* was moving into a senior residence in Chicago. Many Excel spread sheets and visits later, we had chosen what we thought to be the best of the best, but things began to down spiral quickly. Unanticipated stress replaced excitement when I had to step in and take over for the moving coordinator, who seemed to lack any training in long distance moves. The lovely gesture of a sign on the apartment front door would have been much appreciated if it hadn’t read “Welcome Home, Gloria.” Worst of all, JC did not receive an invitation to the new resident birthday surf and turf luncheon. That snub was the final straw.

I did some research and found out that this senior residence was in negotiations to link their services with the hospital that I was working for. I called and made an appointment with both the director and customer service coordinator to discuss my mom’s disappointment. Dressed for success, I carried a brief case with the hospital name on it; a handy prop.

I was angry, but decided that the best approach would be to tug at their heart strings. I presented my case; I had faith in them, put my mom in their hands and their incompetence resulted in her feeling abandoned. I was prepared when they asked how they could repair the damage done. How about three limo rides at no charge (the residence had a limo available for hire) and dinner for four (mom and family) during lobster month at The Palm Restaurant? I produced a letter that I would email to them; all they had to do was copy and paste it onto their stationery.

At that point, I unleashed my secret weapon; I stopped talking, tilted my head slightly to one side and just looked at them; no amount of words can replace the discomfort of stone-cold silence. The letter was delivered to JC later that day. She did enjoy her new home for a while, until she called a family meeting, announced that the residents were too old and moved to a nearby condo.

Since then, with a combination of tenacity, a genteel manner, meticulous research and the silent treatment, I have been able to:

  • Enlist the help of the Department of Consumer Services in Chicago to track down a dead- beat contractor and obtain $12,000 in restitution.
  • Work with the University of Houston Law Center and receive free assistance in order to convince a corporation that payment in full for a storage locker was in their best interest due to an incorrect apartment floor plan.
  • Travel free with my family on the AVE, the high-speed train, from Barcelona to Madrid, Spain when our credit card concierge forgot to email the tickets to our hotel.
  • Convince the airlines why the receipts for the contents of my lost luggage were no longer available and shop for replacement belongings with the $500 they offered.
  • Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner or hotel stay when the initial experience was not up to par.

Sometimes it’s important to take a stand. With a little effort, the frustration and disappointment you experienced can be resolved to your benefit. I can still see the smile on JC’s face when they tied on her lobster bib and when she told me to look out my window, then stood up and waved out the top of the limo as it cruised down Lake Shore Drive.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Lost in Culinary Crazes

photo food trends

Pasta caricatures of your dinner guests; out before it was ever in. 

“…Is there anything you don’t eat?..” That’s the question I always ask any first-time guests to my home. “…Well…,” she texted back…“I’m paleo, gluten-free, vegan, pesca-centric, tropical, raw, keto and equatorial…” I stood there, dumbfounded, when I received a second text from her. “…Only kidding, Sunshine, I eat everything!..”

My jokester friend made me realize something. When was it that I began to lose control of my culinary smarts? I always prided myself as a foodie, able to converse on all the cutting-edge trends, but lately, it seems as if I can’t keep up.

All along, I thought SCOBY was a cartoon character. The rubbery, brown amoeba like creature with bulging eyes and a mischievous grin would dart in and out of adventures in his homeland of Kombucha. Leave it to some millennials on line at Starbucks who took pity on me and explained that SCOBY is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” which forms on top of kombucha tea, a fermented drink made of tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Known for its health benefits, it’s been around for thousands of years. It’s rich in probiotics and is said to actually fight off some diseases.

I was caught off guard when I called for a reservation at a favorite restaurant and was told they were closed for a special sold out event. Their guests would be introduced to dark dining. All around the world restaurants are turning off their lights in the hopes that the removal of vision will enhance the other senses and increase gastronomic pleasure. At the end of the evening, night goggles off, I wonder if the waiters share stories of customers accidently eating off a neighbor’s plate, bending down to pick up a fallen napkin and realizing it’s not their lap they’ve placed it back on and navigating those crazy restroom runs.

Leave it to New Jersey to conjure up a union between unicorns and bagels. Purists everywhere are dumbfounded by The Bagel Nook’s introduction of the unicorn bagel, a blue, yellow and pink colored bagel served with cotton candy cream cheese, then dusted with unicorn sparkle dust. Speaking as a Texas resident, I shudder to think what the introduction of anything unicorn like might be in the Lone Star State. Picture thick porterhouse steaks sizzling on a large barbecue grill as flames shoot into the air. A Willie Nelson song plays softly in the background, cold beers have been passed around and it’s the kind of day to put your feet up (cowboy boots on) and relax. Are you going to be the one to suggest a sprinkle of unicorn sparkle dust on the rare hunks of beef? I rest my case.

Any way you slice it, food trends will always keep thrusting themselves into the limelight, hoping at the very least, for their 15 minutes of fame until they fade away. The Jell-O salad jiggled its way onto everyone’s table until sneaky cooks started hiding yesterday’s leftovers in it. Fondue warmed our hearts until double dippers gave us concern for germs. All we can do is open our mouths, bite the bullet and swallow hard; soon we’ll be on to yet another version of good taste.

Budapest: Nov. 1 – 3, 2018

photo budapest

Parliament sparkles at night

It was my idea to take the train from Vienna to Budapest. The ride was under three hours and I thought we might enjoy the scenery. As it turned out, I fell asleep (as I usually do in any moving vehicle) and had to rely on *Mr. Wiz and *Big A for the descriptions of the small towns and countryside that we passed. The train station is jam-packed, so it was comforting to see that little sign, with our last name on it, held by the driver that was to take us to our hotel.

In all the times I’ve stayed at Hilton hotels, I have never experienced one like this. It seems as if the staff stands at attention and clicks their heels to welcome us, with military precision. They operate together as a well-oiled machine, providing impeccable service throughout the Budapest Hilton. The subdued colors and stylish furnishings give it an elegant, yet contemporary feel.

Budapest is one of the largest cities in Europe and Hungary’s capital. Because of the considerable damage left behind after World War, the city is much more modern than Prague. It’s also more sprawling, less touristy and is known for its vibe. Budapest is actually made up of two cities, Buda and Pest, which are separated by the Chain Bridge that spans the Danube River.

With not a moment to spare, we set off to explore. Because the sights are not all within walking distance, we rely on the good old on/off tourist bus, so as not to miss anything. We pass on the funicular and decide to walk up the steep path to Castle Hill to admire the views. The third largest building in the world with over 600 rooms, the commanding presence of the Parliament building is even more impressive when it’s lit up and sparkles at night. We stroll the luxurious grounds of Buda Castle, a palace complex built in 1265. The Matthias Church, dating back to 1015, misleads us with its neo-Gothic exterior and its mystical, exotic interior. Heroes’ Square is impressive, with its stately statues honoring important Hungarian leaders. The Great Market Hall is bustling and we make sure to buy some of the city’s famous paprika to take home.

As we stroll along the Danube, we notice that people are quiet as they approach the Bronze Shoe Memorial. Between 1944 – 1945, many people (most of them Jewish) were murdered along these banks. Before being shot and having their bodies fall into the Danube to be swept away, they were forced to remove their valuable shoes, so as not to waste them. The assorted sizes and styles of shoes that have been bronzed are placed as if the person has just stepped out of them. Whether one shoe was in front of the other or one is on its side, you get the feeling of motion and of realism. It is such an emotional and moving tribute.

It’s worth the wait to eat at Mazel Tov.  The contemporary Israeli restaurant is housed in an old warehouse that looks abandoned on the outside and is one of the city’s classier ruin bars. Derelict buildings circa World War II have become a tourist attraction when transformed into bars and restaurants all over Budapest. When we take a minute to look up from our tahini, hummus, chicken shawarma and homemade, hot pita bread served in a paper bag, we notice the vines hanging from two stories up and the glass ceiling; very cool.

The Hilton recommends a restaurant down the street and we lunch on shrimp, duck pate and goulash soup along with Hungarian wine at the Baltazár Wine Bar. When we learn that two sister restaurants are nearby, our dinner decisions are made. Pierrot Restaurant is housed in a 13thcentury bakery. The black and white photos that line the walls and the pianist playing softly in the corner convey an old-world elegance. We share tastes of the duck in puff pastry, beef tenderloin, venison loin and are starting to appreciate Hungarian wines. By the time we arrive at the 21 Restaurant, Mr. Wiz is well versed on local wines and has an interesting conversation with the manager. Together, they choose a bottle to compliment the rack of lamb, crispy duck and chicken paprikash, which is accompanied by homemade spätzle.

We cannot leave Budapest without visiting Szimpla Kert, the first ruin bar and now known as one of the world’s most famous bars. Created in an abandoned warehouse in the Jewish Quarter, It’s hard to describe; think of a giant, dark junk shop that serves liquor (in a good way). The DJ is housed in a glass room, music is blaring and people from all walks of life (babies in strollers to a senior citizen tour group and everyone in between) are either sitting down (on bar stools, in an old bathtub fitted with benches or inside the body of a car) or strolling around to view what looks like a Fellini movie on steroids.

Is it the entire room filled with old televisions featuring psychedelic patterns on the screens, the wide-eyed doll heads glaring at me from the wall-to-wall shelves or the knight in armor standing next to the six-foot ceramic rabbit amid a collection of old typewriters dangling upside down from the ceiling that will give me nightmares this evening (in a good way)?

Instead, I fall asleep with visions of tomorrow’s last sumptuous buffet breakfast in the lovely hotel dining room, complete with castle views out every window followed by a morning of last minute sightseeing before saying goodbye to Buda and Pest and heading home.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Vienna, Austria: Oct. 29 – Nov. 1, 2018

Photo Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace

It’s a short flight from Prague to Vienna and by the time we get settled in our seats, we are already there. It’s a good feeling when you arrive in a foreign airport and see that little sign with your last name on it, so, once again, we hire a driver sent from our hotel.

The Der Wilhelmshof Hotel is a unique, family run boutique hotel. Designed in collaboration with Viennese artists, their art is not just placed on the walls or on display, but actually becomes part of the décor. Our room has a contemporary mural painted on the wall behind the bed that playfully continues onto the wall sconces.

We enjoy a drink in the hotel bar, as the cheery cocktail waitress (she introduces herself as “Pauline from Poland”) and the concierge assist us in a restaurant selection for the evening. The decision is unanimous; Schweizerhaus is a landmark from the 1920s serving traditional cuisine in a beautiful beer garden. It’s a short walk through a lovely park and a carnival that’s in full swing. We’re seated at a long communal table next to a large Viennese family. We smile, say hello and when they hear that we are from Texas, they are fascinated and have many questions. They guide us through the menu and do not steer us wrong. The gigantic, crispy pork knuckle arrives on a large wooden platter along with a helping of wiener schnitzel (thin pan-fried, breaded pork cutlets) and a warm potato salad made with oil rather than mayonnaise. The ice cold beer tops off a perfect meal. We thank our new friends, who all line up to shake our hands when they leave.

While walking the city streets, we discover that there is a refined and artistic elegance to Vienna. The largest city in Austria, it’s the birthplace of Mozart and Beethoven and known for its many imperial palaces. We feel as if we are taking a step back in time when we visit Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former summer home of the Habsburg family.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is considered the most important religious building in Vienna with its mix of Gothic and Romanesque architecture and magnificent spires dating back to the 1300s. Considered the “mother church” to Roman Catholics, it was built on an ancient cemetery dating back to Roman times.

There is no time to visit them all, so we let Mr. Wiz* choose which museum we will explore. He makes a good choice; the Albertina Museum. The magnificently furnished state rooms from the Habsburg Palace come alive when they are accompanied by narratives of its occupants. The dramatic black and white photographs chronicling everyday life in poor New York City neighborhoods in the 1930s by Helen Levitt startle us. The comprehensive exhibit of Claude Monet details his life, revealing little known accounts that give us new insight and on display were paintings we’ve never seen at any other museums.

Once again, all the restaurant research Big A* and I have done has paid off. The music is loud, the place is packed and the tables are communal at Miznon, an Israeli restaurant. We stand on line to order lunch, gawking hungrily at the open kitchen. Both the lamb and beef burgers served in pita bread have won raves, but it is the charred, spiced cauliflower that is the star of the show. Grilled and served whole, we pull it apart and dunk it into tahini, one of the sauces offered. At Ulrich, a hip, casual restaurant, we lunch on chorizo flatbread and smoked salmon and trout. We are lucky to secure a dinner reservation at an upstairs table with a city view at Lugeck. Sharing entrees seems like the right thing to do, so we can all taste the fried chicken, shrimp and goulash with homemade spaetzle.

We go to great lengths to plan just the right cocktail hours. Alfred Loos is known as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, so we had to experience Loos American Bar. Designed in 1908, the groundbreaking concept combines dark mirrors, low lighting, wood and onyx into the 290 square foot space and fools you into thinking it is surprisingly larger. With Ella Fitzgerald serenading us softly in the background we’re reminded that this is one of those few times that the word “swanky” is apropos.

Das Loft Bar is perched on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Vienna. It’s dark and moody. The ceiling is covered with what looks like flowing silk awash in a combination of colors. Blended with the 360-degree views of the city sparkling back at us, we can’t help but  snuggle into our seats, order another round of cocktails and make another toast to beautiful Vienna.

* Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About’ page

 

 

Prague, the Czech Republic – Oct. 27 – 29, 2018

Photo Prague

Leave it to those millennials; Big A* reminds us that we should take advantage of one of the perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card he suggested we switch to and meet at the VIP lounge in Madrid’s airport. After warm welcomes all-around, we compare the research we’ve all done and start creating daily itineraries for our visit.

The capital and the largest city in the Czech Republic, Prague, is known as “The City of a Hundred Spires.” There is a fairy-tale like quality to the city; the buildings all look as if they have just been painted their pastel colors and the Baroque architecture makes you feel as if you are strolling through a European Disneyland.

Rather than navigate the language and worry about changing our euros into Czech Korunas at the airport (not the best exchange rate), we decide to take advantage of the hotel pickup service. We are reassured by the driver that English is taught in schools and is Prague’s second language. He points out some sights along the way and tells us proudly that tomorrow is the country’s 100th anniversary of its independence and we can look forward to parades, fireworks and many special events.

The Hotel Leonardo has a wonderful, Old World feel about it. The genteel staff seems as if they have been waiting just for us to arrive and surprises us with an upgrade to a junior suite. After a quick review of the city map and all its walkable sights, we thank them in Czech (“Dê Koji” pronounced “Dye-koo-yi”) and head out to explore.

The show must go on! The pouring rain does not stop us or the many events planned. We snuggle into our raincoats and conclude that it might be better to keep moving than to stand in a downpour to watch the parade and fireworks.

We can’t decide if we prefer the day or night view from the Charles Bridge, which connects Prague’s Old Town and Castle Districts. Rather than take the tram, we decide to take the steps all the way up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus’ Cathedral, stopping along the way to admire the views. The castle is a city within itself, named the largest castle complex in the world by the “Guinness Book of World Records.” We tour its main floors and make sure not to miss the spiral staircases that lead up to small collections of everything from a torture chamber to a lady’s boudoir. St. George’s Basilica is the oldest surviving church within the castle. Built in 920, it initially served as a burial ground for princes before being converted to workshops for art and music. The Jewish Quarter isn’t too far a walk and we’re anxious to see the medieval synagogue and the historical exhibitions in its cemetery.

Balancing out our sightseeing with equal amounts of culinary adventures is always a high priority. Prague is known as a beer mecca, so a stop for one at the Restaurant Pekla in the cellar of the Strahov monastery is a must. The underground cave with thick, stone walls dates back to the 12th century and is a welcome respite from the weather. Hard to pass up with our beers are the large, warm pretzels at Kolkovna and the homemade sausage at Lokal, two Czech breweries we also visit. Though we can’t decide if our Prague favorite is the onion soup, mussels, roast duck, goulash or steak frites, we agree that Café de Paris is our choice for the loveliest restaurant. A beautifully restored bell-èpoque café, it exudes elegance and sophistication; just the thing for three, soggy, hungry souls.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Madrid, Spain: Oct. 23 – 26, 2018

Photo Madrid

The Royal Palace

Traveling with Mr. Wiz* is amazing. The last time we were in Madrid was eight years ago and yet he remembers every place we’ve been and how to get there as if it were yesterday. That said, we quickly plan our itinerary and set out, not wanting to waste a minute.

The bad news: The Royal Palace is not open to the public on its free day. The good news: there is a meeting with the German delegation and we are front and center to experience all the pomp and circumstance that is involved with a state visit: the changing of the guards, parade and musicians. Built in the 1700s, we marvel at the size of the structure (the largest building in Spain), which at one time housed the 3000 courtiers of King Felipe VXIII.

Retiro Park is just as we remembered it. One of the largest parks in Spain and a part of the Spanish monarchy until the late 19thcentury, it still seems to have a regal air about it, as its paths wind past sculptures, monuments, a serene lake and beautiful gardens.

We make sure we line up early for the free evening admission to the Prado National Museum. Being serenaded by Spanish guitar music from a local musician helps the time go by quickly. We spend the entire two hours admiring the detail within each painting and fascinated by the stories behind the people depicted.

History records show that tapas became popular in the Middle Ages in taverns that the lower classes frequented. The wine was served in jugs covered with a slice of bread to avoid spills. The word “tapas” evolved from the Spanish verb “tocar” (to cover) and tapas soon came to be known as the little morsels of food that are traditionally served with a drink.

The Mercado de San Miquel Public Market is now serving tapas, but when we arrive it is so crowded. The food at each stall looks amazing, but there is nowhere to sit and hardly anywhere to stand. We are afraid that we might accidently bite into someone’s tapas at this wall to wall giant cocktail party, so we opt to keep going.

Our exploring takes us to Terraza Cibeles, a lovely rooftop bar. The architectural elements of the neighboring buildings, the city views and the European techno music playing in the background makes us feel so hip. We pass on tapas after all and decide that we are still full from the delicious bocadillo (sandwich) we had for lunch at Bodega Vianda. With a seat on the second floor overlooking the city, we dined on jamón (cured ham produced in Spain and Portugal made from black Iberian pigs that is similar to prosciutto in look, but much tastier), sheep cheese and crusty bread; so simple, yet so delicious.

The Petit Palace Opera turned out to be a good choice. It’s a boutique hotel housed in a historic building, located near the main plazas, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor (Madrid’s grandest plaza) and is within walking distance to most sights. Our Juliet balcony looks out over the pedestrian street, which is never without the throngs of people swarming in and out of the many stores and restaurants or watching one of the musicians, dancers or magicians performing.

I wish Mr. Wiz a Feliz Cumpleaños (Happy Birthday) and regale him with a poem that I have written in his honor:

It’s great being a 65’er
With all its wonderful perks

Senior discounts galore wherever you go
And cheaper health care that actually works

So, be adventurous, be happy and enjoy this wonderful stage
And most of all remember, to never act your age!

I surprise him with a lunch reservation at La Botin. According to “The Guinness Book of World Records,” it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world (dating back to 1725) and is renowned for its roast sucking pig and lamb cooked over vine shoots in the huge charcoal oven that’s been there since opening day. My Spanish is better than I thought; the maître d’ honors my request to sit at Ernest Hemingway’s favorite table and even brings us a complimentary dessert. We dine slowly and savor each bite.

There are many flamenco shows in Madrid, but Cardamomo is the only one that has been sanctioned by The New York Times and it’s near our hotel. Atypical of most performances, the male dancer absolutely steals the show and we find ourselves shouting “…Ole!..” along with the rest of the audience. Note to self: Why did I stop taking flamenco lessons? Maybe it’s time to go back to dressing in my flamenco outfit and practicing the steps in my closet again?

An evening walk seems in order and what better way to end a perfect day than to scout out where our next and final dinner will be tomorrow evening. Having found La Sanabresa, a family run restaurant and a favorite of the locals, we sleep like babies, with visions of all of our favorite Spanish foods on the menu dancing in our heads.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Salamanca, Spain: Oct. 20 – 22, 2018

Photo Salamanca

Salamanca University

We’re headed to “The Golden City.” We still have a few more days before we meet Big A* in Madrid, so Salamanca seems like a good place to stop on the way; it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s also a university town.

We’ve read about the fact that the sandstone used to construct the buildings is exclusive to this region and gives off a caramel/yellow tint, but to actually see the buildings glow when the sun shines on them is amazing. That coupled with its cleanliness makes this city something special.

Known as the Spanish version of Oxford, Salamanca University dates back to 1218 making it the oldest in Spain and the fourth oldest in the world. It gives the city a lively, fun and energetic spirit. We marvel at its Renaissance architecture as we search for “La Rana de la Suerte” (the good luck frog); legend has it that if a student can find the single carved frog within the many carvings on the façade, they will pass all their exams.

Of the two Cathedrals, the old Cathedral was initially built in the 12thcentury and has the distinction of being one of the oldest constructed buildings in the world. To be standing among the ornate carvings and the frescoes dating back so many thousands of years is sometimes hard to fathom.

Considered one of Spain’s most beautiful plazas, Plaza Mayor is a welcome respite from our exploring. All day long, people gather to eat, drink, people watch and listen to the musicians. The public square most probably hasn’t changed much since the 18thcentury; it is tranquil each morning and crescendos to a party atmosphere by nightfall.

The Room Mate Hotel Vega is in a great location near the Plaza Mayor and turns out to be a good choice. Not too expensive, it offers a boutique feel with its red, white and black contemporary décor.

For some reason, we are too hungry to wait until 8 p.m. for dinner and settle on enjoying “dunch” each day, my term for the meal between lunch and dinner. My favorite is the paella which combines all of my favorites: rice flavored with chicken broth and saffron, chicken, pork, shrimp, clams and scallops.

With just enough time to figure out how to get to the walkway and picturesque gardens that are majestically perched above the city, we agree that Salamanca was well worth the stop and has cut our travel time to Madrid to only two and ½ hours by bus.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cas of Characters” on the “About” page.

Post-Camino: The Next Steps

Photo Post Camino

Wanderlust is a wonderful thing. The adventure of exploring new cultures never gets old. It takes you out of yourself, broadens your horizons and leaves you with the gift of memories that are your souvenirs to conjure up at any time.

There is something very cool about traveling with a backpack (something I thought I would never do). I felt like a nomad; out in the world, with my arms free and feeling as free as a bird.

After five weeks, I’m not tired of living out of a backpack and assorted sizes of Ziplock bags. With only a few changes of clothing, the feeling of wearing a uniform each day was liberating. The simple pleasures of a hotel room with a bathtub or locating my one pair of earrings (after a few glasses of wine and forgetting in which bag I had placed them for safe keeping the night before) would make my day.

With my daily focus on my destination, what I would eat and where I would stay, it left me time to pay attention to the details of nature around me that I might ordinarily miss. It gave me an opportunity to associate with my fellow pilgrims and really listen to what they had to say.

It is said that you should focus on “my Camino”; no two are meant to be the same. My knee injury, though not what I had planned, gave me more time alone. Whether sitting in the room or outside with my foot up, I had more occasion for introspection. I finally gave in to the frustration of the healing process and found the peace that was awaiting me each day.

Always drawn to the mystical side, I longed for a sign, a message that might sum up my journey. Leave it to me to find it written on a bathroom stall in Finisterre, Spain: “…Fill your life with experiences, not things; have stories to tell, not stuff to show…”

And with that, I wish you a buen Camino!