Thursday, July 10, 2014

Alaska 2014 - Eklutna Lake

July 2

Chad had the day off July 2nd and joined us for a Kayaking adventure on Eklutna Lake.  It's a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.  We rented 3 Kayaks for $35 a piece and headed out on the water in pairs or threesomes.

I stayed behind the first time and watched the kiddos who didn't want to go or couldn't fit in the first round.  Cooper liked to try out all the seats of the Kayaks on the shore.

Later, I swapped Grandma to go out with William.  After that I took Anna for a little while.  We all had a wonderful time.

Alaska 2014 - Eagle River Nature Center

July 1

Kip thought this would be a good summer to visit Alaska.  If you're wanting to go, doing it when you have family living there makes it more affordable and gives you an inside connection when choosing touristy activities.  So we flew up June 30 and spent the Independence day week with Chad and Angie.

There's a nature park not far from Chad and Angie's.  We dragged the kids out there in the drizzling rain Tuesday afternoon.  It was an absolutely beautiful place.  The wildflowers in this state are amazing! I couldn't keep from taking picture after picture.

It was a great place for a walk.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Day 10 Milan September 3

Our final day in Italy.  I felt a little emotional about that.  Becca was upset on Sunday about me being away and I had really wanted to talk with her Monday but the kids were in the spa at Grammy's house when we called.  They didn't come out just for a phone call from Mom.  I was starting to feel like maybe it was time to go home.  But at the same time, this has been a wonderful experience.  Each concert was better than the last.  We got to make new friends and increased our friendship with some old ones.  I was emotional.  And I was getting sick.  On Monday in Venice/Burano, I kept feeling like the world was moving.  Whenever we sat still, I felt like I was still on the water, the ground rocking gently beneath me.  By the end of Monday evening I had a migraine.  My medicine helped and I felt much better Tuesday morning, but as we made our 4-hour bus ride to Milan, I started to sneeze and realized my throat was hurting.  I hoped it was just allergies.

We had a very short walking tour of Milan focusing on the Duomo...

and La Scala. 

I was worn out.  I didn't get much out of the tour.

We had time to relax at the hotel that afternoon and Kip wanted to get travel snacks and more chocolate (of course!). I thought it would be nice to see a little more of the area, the less-touristy part, so we went off.  We just kind of walked around after finding that the shop his map program had taken us to was not what we needed. And suddenly I saw a Carrefour, just like on my mission.  If I hadn't lived in France I would never have recognized it.  The windows are striped and mostly blocked so you can't see inside, but I knew the logo and name and knew it meant groceries.  We got our chocolate and snacks at non-tourist prices.  Although, regular Milan prices probably aren't something to brag about.

We had our farewell dinner at a restaurant that took quite a while to get to.  Apparently traffic in Milan is not a pleasant thing.  The staff made sure we knew that most of the menu was already gluten free and that there were just a few things they had done for the three of us with that particular sensitivity.  We had milanese risotto, which tastes a lot like mac n cheese but with large rice pieces instead of noodles.  The main course was pork on polenta with mushrooms and potatoes.  For dessert, most of the group had apple cake (complete with a sparkler-style candle and happy birthday chorus for Emily).  The GFers had flan.  I was starting to feel pretty crummy, so I didn't eat all that much.  I think I have a cold.

The dinner ended with a speech by Cindy and applause for all the people who put so much effort into this trip.  It was a good tour.  We got a few last pictures and headed for the hotel.  After some final packing and a failed attempt to Skype the kids (poor wifi strength and kids in spa) we went to bed a little early.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Day 9 Venice September 2

Monday was a rare and precious 'free day.'  Riener and the bus picked us up from the hotel at 9 and delivered us to Venice.

The one organized activity for the day was a gondola ride.  A bunch of us had prepaid for a traditional gondola ride through the canals of Venice.  We divided into groups of 6 and took places in several different gondolas.  Kip and I were with Cara, Emily, Jessica, and Maurene.  The ride was not quite as romantic as I had imagined.  Not so much because we were with 4 other people as that the gondolier just wasn't friendly.  He was very skilled at maneuvering through the water.  There were some bridges we went under where he seriously could have bashed his head but he ducked gracefully beneath with the comfort of years of practice.  But there was no interaction with us or with Flavio Piccolo who was getting quite popular among the orchestra members by this time.  One of the other boats had a gondolier with a stuffed giraffe who seemed amused to see us photographing Flavio Piccolo with each passenger on the boat and in different places on the sides.

After the gondola ride, Kip and I and many of the other orchestra members caught the Vaporetto to Murano.  Once there we opted to pass up the glass blowing factories and head straight to Burano, the island known for lace production.  Flavio (Alto) had described Burano as: like a Venice from the distant past before it became rich and showy.

Burano was absolutely charming.  The boat dropped us and we opted to find our own path toward the center of the town. We took quiet alleyway and found ourselves in front of places where local people actually lived.

The brightly colored houses were lined up along alleyways of varying width, some just wide enough for two walking aide by side, some almost wide enough for a car.  The doors were often opened, each covered by a brightly colored piece of fabric as a sort of privacy screen.  Inside, you could hear televisions blaring or people talking.  And there were children!  We saw a pair of 8-9 year-old boys on one street on a cell phone.  They talked into it excitedly, then hung up with a 'gracie, Mama!'  They ran in through a curtained front door yelling, 'she said yes, she said yes!'  (In Italian of course.)

In other alleyways, kids zipped past us on bikes.  Delectable smells drifted from the kitchens of some of the houses.  It was extremely enjoyable to just walk among it.  But it was a guilty enjoyment at the same time.  I could imagine living in one of those houses, conducting my everyday business.  I would be irritated looking out my kitchen window and seeing a curious foreigner staring back.  Residents of the picturesque island must wish tourists would keep to the main street of the town, with its shops and restaurants, and stay our of the little bit of heaven they get the privilege to call home.  I couldn't help myself.  I just had to turn down all the quiet alleys I could find and investigate the peaceful areas where no one was trying to get my money.  I had to see the pink houses next to the blue and green houses and take pictures of the flower boxes in the windows and the laundry on the lines suspended over the alleyways.  It was too beautiful.

When we did end up back at the main drag, we obligingly purchased some trinkets.  We found a shop with Murano glass jewelry and scarves.  The sales lady was nice and I found a necklace and bracelet I really liked.  She offered to shorten the bracelet by taking out a bead so it would fit better, but warned that it would take a couple minutes.  I told her that was fine.  We were on vacation and had all the time we needed.  'At last!' She cried.  'Everybody comes here and is so rushed.  That is not a vacation.' I agreed with her entirely, thinking guiltily that there had been a lot of rushing on our vacation. This just happened to be a day without it.  And I was really glad about that.

Further down the street we found another jewelry shop.  The proprietor of this one was a young woman, early 30s. She had jars of Murano glass beads she sold individually so you could make your own jewelry. Then, she also had complete necklaces and bracelets and earrings.  We both fell in love with a red necklace made with non-polished red striped beads. They were treated with acid and the effect made them look almost wooden.  The girl who ran the shop told us that all summer she ran her shop and all winter she made the jewelry.  It seemed like a wonderful life!

Her daughter (7 yr old) came down from above the shop and went out to play with her friends in the street (no cars, so they can do that). Kip asked if he could get a picture of Flavio Piccolo with her and she obliged.  The picture turned out adorable.  I hope it didn't make Becca too jealous when he posted it on his facebook page.

Eventually, we decided to leave Burano and head back to Venice.  We had planned on stopping in Murano to see the glass shops, but changed our minds.  But we didn't communicate properly with Guy about it, and as our Vaporetto pulled into the dock in Venice, we saw him pulling out an a Vaporetto to Murano.  After waiting for his return, we spent the evening walking around Venice.  We discovered that Venice actually does have local residents also.  There were children on bicycles.  There were buildings with sounds from inside.  We even stumbled upon what appeared to be a Karaoke competition with a woman belting out a pretty impressive rendition of New York, New York.  There are residents of Venice, they just don't come out while the hoards of tourists are thronging the streets.  Or, maybe they do, but you don't see them through the crowds.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Oregon Arts Orchestra - Day 8 Venice

Sunday was a walking tour of Venice with the whole group.  Getting off the bus, Flavio told us not to turn on our Italian iPods.  Ours had been moved while we were deviating from the rest of group.  I didn't see mine and thought Flavio had meant that we didn't need it.  We headed to the square and met our tour guide for the morning, Lucy. As we grouped around her in the Piazza San Marco and everyone adjusted their earpieces, suddenly things became very hard for me and Kip to hear.  Instead of the tour guide speaking up to project over the sound of the pressing crowds, she dropped her voice to speak quietly, directly into her microphone.  We would have appreciated our iPod's then.

Lucy took us inside the Doge's palace and across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison.  I stuck close to her to hear as much of the discussion as possible.  The wealth of these places is amazing!  The walls and ceilings are covered with priceless paintings that are framed (at least in the Doge's Palace) with 24 carat gold.  Because of the location (muddy island), all the Venetian buildings are built on pilings buried in the mud.  A large Venetian building would require an entire forest beneath it just to hold it up.  And almost as much inside to make up the building itself.

That evening was our final concert.  We performed in Treviso, almost an hour away from Venice.  We left early enough to set up, eat, and rehearse before the 9pm concert.  Unfortunately, Italian restaurants don't start serving dinner before 7 and we had to rehearse at 7.  But they will serve drinks and little salty pork sandwiches and caprese.  I can't get enough caprese.

Our concert was in a covered area in the main square of the town.  There were a lot of people out enjoying their Sunday evening who were very curious to see a bunch of American's all dressed in black walking the streets of their little town.  Our rehearsal had a bit of an audience all it's own.

When 9:00 came, the chairs in the covered pavilion were almost all full and people were sitting on the stone half-wall around the outside.  We we ready to go.  We took off with the Rossini, Theiving Magpie, and it was a good beginning.  Everything was lining up nicely and we were enjoying playing together.

The second piece on the concert was the Cimerosa.  While Phyllis and I pulled our stands taller and maneuvered to the side of the orchestra, Cindy and Flavio introduced our orchestra to the crowd.  Kp and Guy, our stage hands, took our stands to the front and we followed a moment after.

When we played the Cimerosa at the first concert, I was really nervous.  It was at the church in Rome.  In fact, we played it twice that night.  We did the middle movement during the mass, during communion if I remember right.  And that went just fine, although it felt a little odd to be performing in the main part of the church while Mass was held in the chapel on the side.   Then, we performed the whole piece during the concert after the Mass.  The seats for the audience were so close to me and Phyllis that we could have given people in front of us high 5's. it was super hot in the church, and with our beaded shirts OVER our concert blacks, it was sweltering.  Add to the the general nerves that accompany solo performance (or duo in this case) and I was pretty hopeless.  It wasn't a terrible performance, but it was a little shaky and by the end my ability to count had disintegrated.  I made mistakes that really weren't worth making.

During the second concert at the Tettuccio Baths in Montecatini, we had to shorten the concert.  We cut the first movement and did 2 & 3. This performance was better.  I was less nervous, less hot, and farther from the audience by several feet.  There were mistakes, but it was a good performance.

This concert in Treviso was a good one.  The weather was nice.  The audience didn't overwhelm me.  Things were good.  We performed the first movement since we'd done the other two last time. And things just really seemed to line up right.  It was the kind of performance that goes just as well as it possibly could go.  It wasn't a perfect performance, but I did my part as well as I had done in my very best personal practices.  It was magical to play with the orchestra behind me and Phyllis and just enjoy how everything came together.  I heard later that there was a little girl dancing at the front of the audience through the performance.  That's a good sign!

Yvonne played the Vivaldi Winter after us.  It was also very well done.  Then, the dixieland group came up.  They had performed at the concert in the Tettuccio Baths and been unquestionably the highlight of the concert.  They are a ton of fun, and very different from anything else you hear at a classical concert.  Especially a European classical concert.  At this concert, they were again a definite favorite of the night. After their piece finished, Flavio came up and announced that someone had requested the Saints, so they just whipped it out, no music or anything.

We closed out with the Hansen, 2nd and 3rd movements.  We have made a lot of progress on that one.  After the appropriate applause, we played our encores.  First American Salute, then, after another round of applause, a snippet of the Rossini.

The venue cleared out and we packed our things, stacked our chairs and started a hike to the bus.  The night was dark and the streets had emptied quickly.  Kip stayed at the back helping Sharon walk on the uneven cobblestones.  I tried to position myself where I could still see him, Sharon, and Susan behind and the rest of the orchestra ahead.  Eventually the main group stopped and waited for us to catch up.  The bus was still a good walk farther away and it had started to rain.  Flavio had called a taxi for Sharon.  We left him with her and hiked off.  When we reached the bus, Sharon was inside waiting for us.  Her hip has deteriorated and is it incredibly painful for her to walk.  This has been a tough trip for her.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - day 7 train to Venice

We decided to spend Saturday away from the rest of the orchestra.  Their plan for the day involved a three hour bus ride to Cremona and three hours there walking and listening to a tour guide.  The highlight was a trip to a stradivarius museum.  The string players were very excited.  The winds weren't as enthusiastic.  From there they had a three hour ride to venice.  Six hours on a bus did not sound pleasant.  Especially on our anniversary. Instead, we joined Guy Lou and Jae heading to Venice early.

The train station was a short walk from our hotel.  There was no ticket agent so we took on an automated ticket machine.  In spite of our best efforts, we took several minutes figuring out how to get tickets from the machine.  The necessity of a pin number for credit cards threw us for a loop.

The train ride from Montecatini to Florence was about 45 minutes.  We sat next to a nice German jazz pianist.  He had a good joke about drummers knocking on your door.  You know it's a drummer because the knocking slows down.

The Florence train station was crowded.  We worked our way from the train over to the ticket purchase area with live ticket salespeople.  The line was long and slow so we tried another automated machine, this time with more success.  The first two trains to Venice were full the third only had 1st class seats available.  It arrived at the time we wanted, so we opted to take the splurge.  With an hour before boarding, we left the chaos of the station to find a cafe.  Then, at the appointed time we came back and got our train.

We had bought seats on a high speed train.  Unfortunately, Kip and I were in car 1 and the others were in car two.  And Kip and I weren't officially seated together.  When we got into the train there was some sort of drama on board.  One passenger was upset because another was sitting in her seat.  The other passenger said that she had a ticket for that car but her printed seat number didn't exist.  The girl meant to be where she was sitting asked her to move out of her seat, but girl 2 refused saying that since her seat didn't exist she was taking that one.  Crazy.  A fellow passenger intervened and resolved it by finding another available seat for the cranky girl.

The train was very comfortable, with great leg room.  A Canadian family sat in front of us.  They explained that the trains were full because of a film festival in Venice and the regatta on Sunday.  That, and just because it was Saturday.

The train dropped us right on the edge of Venice. We bought a day pass for the Vaporetto and went into the city.  Lou and Jae were meeting Lou's cousin at the Piazza San Marco, so we rode the Vaporetto there. We found a nice place for lunch and got a feel for Lou's family.  Andre, the cousin, is a well-known French journalist.  He has a large personality.  His daughter Aurelie is very bright and cheerful.

Kip and I separated from them after lunch and tried to get to a less-crowded, less-touristy area.  And we tried to find a few souvenirs for the kids.  We ducked down quiet alleyways and found picturesque spots.  Then we took another turn and found ourselves back in San Marco.

At 5:30 we met Lou, Jae, and Guy and took a taxi to the hotel. We gave the front desk our names. They told us we were in the VIP room. Kip had pulled some strings and we had a solid bed, not two singles pushed together.  And there was a vase of roses on the desk.  It was a nice anniversary surprise.

We made sure that we were in the lobby with drinks when the rest of the orchestra arrived.  They all looked a little envious.

Oregon Arts Orchestra - day 6 Montecatini and Florence

Flavio, as our tour guide, has the job of amusing the bus during travel.  He has a microphone and regales us with stories about local history, interesting facts about our surroundings, and whatever other random ramblings come to his mind.  Flavio has a very interesting mind.  He often ends up singing or telling jokes.  It can be very entertaining. Unfortunately, he also often ends up bantering with the people in the front of the bus.  He says something funny and the whole bus laughs.  Then, there is the muffled sound of someone in the front saying something unamplified and laughter from the front of the bus.  Flavio says something into the mike that causes more laughter in the front but to the back of the bus, it makes no sense.

And thus we made it through the 45 minute drive from Montecatini to Firenze.

Firenze, or Florence as we English-speakers choose to rename it, is a lovely place with narrow streets and large churches to explore.  Our area-specific tour guide for the day was Bernie.  He was short with buzzed balding hair, a canvas hat, grey polo, and a great sense of humor.  He took us to see the David first of all.  It's in a very small museum at the Academie of Art. It is pretty much the only reason people go there.   There are just 3 rooms and no one even really looks in the other two.  We definitely didn't.  But we spent long enough in the room looking at the David to make up for not having anything else to see.  Bernie had us in front of the David for half an hour. Then we went behind for another 20 minutes to admire him from the rear.  It was a lot of standing.  I hadn't guessed you could look at one sculpture for that long and still have new things to say about it.  Bernie knew a ton and had a good style of sharing his knowledge with us. We all had our 'Italian iPods', so we could hear Bernie wherever we were.  Except Kip, who gave his willingly to someone else and stood in blissful quiet while the rest of us listened.  I shared my earpiece with him from time to time, or repeated a good tidbit here and there.

The best part of the tour was when Bernie told about some of the celebrities he had taken on tour.  The best was when he took the cast of the Jersey Shore.  'Snooky' asked the type of questions that give Americans a bad name in the rest of the civilized world.  'What did David think of his portrait?'  When Bernie explained that they lived thousands of years apart, she wanted to know how Michelangelo knew what he looked like.  Oy vey.

After the museum, we walked through Florence, taking in the important sites.  Bernie told us that really you should spend three days in Florence if you want to see the best things. We had a few hours.  Oh well.  We walked all over, until our swollen feet were throbbing.   We saw churches - a big one with tower and dome and a not-so-big one with a star of David and story about religious tolerance. We saw statues - naked people, clothed people, people killing other people, people killing other animals.  And when we finally couldn't take any more, we went to a restaurant for lunch.

Flavio had told us that we must eat some Florentine steak, tagliata.  So those of us who wanted to follow his recommendation went to a little place at the end of the tour and got our steak, red and bloody on a bed of green arugula and topped with parmesan cheese.  It was very good steak.  Flavio and the staff seemed to be on excellent terms.  In fact, he seemed to know people all over the place.  During our lunch the previous day, when we skipped out on the Sienna tour, he ran into on of his 60+ x-girlfriends when he did his shopping.  In Florence, people called greetings to him from their shops as we passed.  Another orchestra member was given a hard time by his salesperson because he was traveling with Flavio.  He makes traveling fun.

After breezing through Florence we returned to charming little Montecatini.  We refreshed at the hotel and then walked up to the station for the funicular to get a visit to Montecatini Alto, the old city on the hilltop.  The 100+ year old funicular takes about 15 minutes to climb the hill, at a grade that peaks at 38%. One car descends while the other climbs and they pass in the middle where the track separates just for that.  We took Flavio Piccolo, as we are calling the little dog we got for Becca along and took pictures of him enjoying the ride and popping up in unexpected places all over Montecatini Alto.  We even introduced him to some local cats.  They weren't entirely sure what to do with him.

The village at the top if the hill was charming, just what an ancient hilltop village should be.  The streets were narrow and steep and dotted with delightful nooks and crannies.  I wanted to spend twice as long wandering its streets than we did, but after walking Florence all day my feet hurt too much to comply.  Plus, with the descent of evening darkness the temperature dropped dramatically. I was very cold as I shared my banana split with Kip.  We caught the funicular and went back down to the new town.  Guy, Lou, and their Dixieland Band set up on the hotel balcony and regaled the guests with Jazz and Jokes.  An excellent way to end the day.