A Travellerspoint blog

The Long Road Home

September 25

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The time had finally come to say farewell to Europe and return home. We awoke at 3:30 am, after sleeping maybe 3 hours. We quickly dressed and dragged our carryon bags down to reception where the hotel had graciously kept our suitcases so that we didn't have lug 300 lbs up and down the stairs. We woke up the night clerk who helped us get our bags downstairs via an elevator (lift) that was only big enough for 1 person and 2 cases at the time so needless to say, we made several trips. The taxis arrived and got us to the airport quickly. We thought we may have time to freshen up in the restroom and put on some makeup which we had not taken the time to do at the hotel but we thought wrong. After checking our suitcases, we proceeded through customs and then through security and eventually ended up in a room for the gate Our flight to Frankfurt, Germany for our connecting flight was uneventful, in fact, I slept for about an hour, I think and missed breakfast but woke up when coffee was being served. I'm not sure if I snored or not and at this point I'm too tired to really care, but I still could not quite make eye contact with the stranger who sat beside me just in case. In the airport in Germany, we went through another round of security and customs. Georgianna was wanded and frisked while mama was detained while they searched her bag for an usual item that had shown up on their screen. The item turned out to be Lorie's rock from France that she had carried across three countries for her flower bed at home. Now keep in mind, that I am not talking about a small pebble, this rock was at least eight inches across and weighed a good pound and a half. The security officer took it out and told mama that she couldn't have it and then held it up so that all his comrades could see it. They all got a good laugh at us and mama threatened to strangle Lorie who had peeked around the corner and promptly disappeared from view when she saw what was going on. Our long flight to Philadelphia was extremely boring. Somehow, we all seated separately, it was almost as if they thought we could cause some sort of ruckus if we were seated together which I guess is not so farfetched. Anyway, I passed the time by napping, writing some of this blog, reading and attempting to watch the inflight entertainment, which of course was not working properly at my seat. We finally made it to Philadelphis and after proceeding through immigration had to obtain our checked luggage and go through customs. When we picked up the luggage, it was discovered that one og Georgianna's bottles of wine had busted in her suitcase and was leaking. We made it to customs where we were directed to the customs for agriculture because we had oil and wine in our luggage (see what I mean about the upside to UPS) where our luggage was rescanned. We then had to take our luggage to another place to be rechecked and then proceeded to yet another security screening where this time I was stopped for having a bottle of water in my carryon that I had forgotten about. In the meantime, we discovered that our cardboard tube containing paintings that we purchased in Paris had been left in the agriculture cusoms section. Lorie went back to try to retrieve it but was unable to get back through. Long story short, we missed our connecting flight to Wilmington. If anyone is planning an international flight, please know that a one hour layover between flights is not enough time, you should have at least 3 hours so that you don't panic. The airline placed us on the next flight to Wilmington at 5:45 pm but promptly after we had all notified our rides and loved ones at home, we were informed that the flight had been concelled due to mechanical problems and were placed on another flight at 8:55 pm. Since we had additional time to kill, Lorie and Georgianna searched out help to retrieve our paintings. After much frustration, they were able to retrieve them but not before we all decided that alot could be gained if Americans strove to have the level of professional service and attitudes that we had experienced abroad, at least by this particular airlines employees. We finally made it home around 10:00 pm and were greeted by our loved ones. We have had amazing experiences and seen some wonderful places on this trip, but as always the best part is coming home. . . . at least until we plan our next trip.

Posted by sludergirl 11:10 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sluder Girls in Florence

September 23 - 24

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We had spent a frantic night packing to leave our farmhouse for Florence. We were having some difficulty in packing the bottles of oil and wine that had been purchased and meeting the 50 lb luggage limit required by the airline. In hindsight, we all agree that any future travels would include a visit to UPS to ship purchased items no matter what the costs. Anyhow, by morning we were packed and ready. Our morning plans were slightly diverted when Carlette awoke with a migraine and Lorie was forced to drive the last leg of our travels to Florence. This drive became more dreaded and confusing when we realized that our driving instructions to the car drop off had somehow been lost. We made it to the A1 towards Florence but were unsure of which exit to take we only knew that it would probably be near the airport. When we stopped for fuel (which by the way still have full service attendants, which is great!) we asked the attendant if could direct us to the address for the car drop off. He said that the address was in the city center and driving there is prohibited without a special permit and that we would not want to drive there even if we had permission, and we knew that if an italian driver was telling us this, then there was no way we were setting a tire anywhere near there. After leaving the station, getting off on the wrong exit, getting back on in the wrong direction, exiting again and circling that same gas station three times, we ended up calling the Eurocar place again and they said that it was ok to drop if off at the airport which was a good thing because Lorie and I had already decided that our car was going to be left somewhere with a note and a phone call for them to come and find it, we were done, finit. Anyway, after disposing of our cars and holding our breath during the inspection, I kissed the ground and starting dragging our heavy luggage to the taxi stand.

We arrived at our hotel, La Scallata, in Florence shortly after. If anyone is travelling to Florence, please keep this hotel in mind, they were so helpful and kind and were in a great location, just around the corner from the pont vecchia (bridge of gold). We had a great lunch at a restaurant recommended by the hotel and mama had a t-bone steak that she raved about for 2 days. We spent the afternoon taking in the sights of Florence including the famous "David" in all his glory. This work of art is truly amazing when you look at the detail in his arms and hands. You can practically see his muscles and veins as he prepares to hurl his stone at Goliath. It was also incredible to consider that two great artists and inventors, Michangleo and Leonardo DaVinci lived and walked along the same streets that we were. We had dinner at the hotel on the rooftop terrace which afforded us the best view in Florence, it was amazing. As this was Carlette's last night (she had booked her flight to return a day earlier than the rest of us), we said our farewells as she would be leaving early in the morning.

Our last day in Florence, began with a breakfast in a little cafe not far from the hotel. Susie finally was able to enjoy a full sized cup of coffee, so far her Italy coffee experience only consisted of expressos which were served in doll-sized cups and, according to her, tasted like the leftover coffee at the bottom of a pot that had been sitting all day, so she was enjoying her cappucino this morning. The better part of this day was spent shopping. Let me tell you, Florence is a shopping paradise for leathergoods and jewelry and we had a ball until time to consider our packing situation again which led us to buy yet another carryon bag with wheels to help us out.

Posted by sludergirl 10:33 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sluder Girls in Toscana

September 20 - 23

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We said bonjourno to Venice about mid-morning and began our drive to tuscany where we were staying at a farmhouse with spectacular views of the tuscan landscape and a treacherously steep gravel driveway. We attempted that evening to go to a nearby town for dinner, but when Carlette tried to get our car back up the steep gravel drive with our manual drive car (no automatic cars to be had in Europe by the way) we kept sliding back down and at one point into a rose bush. Carlette, who had a fear of hills, got out of the car and refused to drive any further. She walked up the hill to wait for us. Susie, our most experienced mountain driver, got us up the hill and finally into town which was another treacherous journey. Everything you have ever read about italian drivers is correct so beware because they will run you off the road in a minute. Unable to find the restaraunt we were searching for, we opted to pick up some pasta and salad from the grocery to cook at the house, so that we could hopefully get back before dark. We were not at all certain we could find our little hidden getaway on the winding road in the dark.

We spent the next few days, taking in the countryside and searching for hidden vineyards down every donkey and goat path we came across, which proved to be another treacherous endeavor after a smoking clutch and a gashed back tire (discovered on the top of one the mountains). We were rewarded for our efforts; however, when we met many interesting people along the way including two 17 year old girls from Austria who were working at a winery for 14 weeks as a part of their education. These girls spoke 3 languages, german, english and a little french. We also met a fellow American whose husband's family ran a small winery. We learned alot about the making of wine and of olive oil. It seems that nearly all of the vineyards also grow olives and after learning the process of making olive oil (1 tree makes approximately 1 liter of oil), you do not wonder at the price of it in the stores (although it is much cheaper here than in the states). We also enjoyed the small villages of Asciano, a non turisty town where you really get a real picture of italian life, and Cortona, the ancient village where the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" was filmed. We were a little disappointed; however, when we discovered that the famous fountain in the movie where Francesca frolicked was not a part of Cortona at all but was only there for the movie, oh well.

Posted by sludergirl 09:58 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sluder Girls in Venice

September 17 - 19

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We left Ancy Le Franc around 7:00 am for Venice, Italy. The drive was another adventure in which we had to figure out gas pumps and sychronize maps, not to mention the actual driving through the French, Swiss and Italian alps, at times in the sleet and rain without the help of a GPS and only one cell phone. We traveled through a series of tunnels called Mont Blanc and once when we pulled into an emergency pull over inside a tunnel to let the other car know that we would need to stop for fuel when possible, the Italian Polizia quickly pulled in behind us and made us leave immediately. A little scary but understandable. We arrived late in the evening after a 9 hour drive. We arrived in Venice by water taxi and I have to be honest, our first view of Venice on this dark and rainy night was not overly exciting. In the morning; however, Venice was beautiful in the sunlight and soon would become my favorite city of this trip. Our "family room" at the hotel had five beds and one bathroom which took some planning for six women but the views were great which was lucky because air conditioning was not allowed at times and you had to keep your windows open to cool and ventilate the room. An added bonus is that there were no bugs, which was surprising because you are completely surrounded by water! Europe we have discovered is way ahead of us in the conservation of energy and many lights are turned on by movement in addition to the limitations on air conditioning and heat.

We spent the morning on a water taxi for our own "Rick Steves" tour narrated by Carlette. Afterwards we had lunch and did some shopping for Venetian glass gifts. We then toured the Basilica and wandered the streets which are a wonder in themselves. Around sunset, we enjoyed a gondala ride with a bottle of percheco (not sure of the spelling, put a type of italian sparkling wine). The canals were beautiful and we even passed by Mozart's home. If you ever have a chance to take a gondala ride, take it from me and check the tides. The difference in water levels is significant at high tide, which is when we took our ride, of course, which meant that the gondalier had to tilt the gondala more so that he could manuver it under the many bridges. This was scary stuff, when you are talking about six full grown southern women and one little italian gondalier. In my mind, I was recalling a sunken canoe at Camp Kirkwood and was already wondering how well all of us could swim if we needed to. The gondalier was an expert; however, and managed to get us safely back, although it was evident that he had earned his euros, when somewhere along the way he had stripped off his pretty little striped sweater. Our evening ended with a light supper and desserts in San Marco square while enjoying the live music which included a rendition of "The Hills are Alive" which held a special meaning for Carlette, and that's all I'm allowed to say about that.

Posted by sludergirl 09:23 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Sluder Girls in Lausanne, Switzerland

September 15

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Arising early, we drove to Montbard to catch the train for our day trip to Switzerland. We had to change trains in Dijon which became hilarious, although not at the time, when the platform for the train had changed and that led us running to another to catch our train only to be told when we got there that the announcement was in error which led everyone running back to where we were to begin with. After we arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland, we realized that we would need Swiss Francs to make purchases which added to our already confusing coin collections. Switzerland, we also discovered, is very warm this time of year so none of our additional outer clothing was necessary; however, we could see snow on the distant mountain tops. We walked along the waterfront park and had lunch by Lake Geneva. Afterwards, we visited another ancient cathedral and walked along the very steep streets before heading back to the train station to head back home. Some of us left to get to the train station early to ensure that we would not have to run to catch it this time, our hearts just wouldn't be able to take it.

Posted by sludergirl 09:09 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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