Monday, August 19, 2013

ANOTHER Fairfield Visit!!!!

I was able to make another quick trip to Fairfield last week. was for a funeral.  A dear family friend from YEAR'S back, died from complications related to a battle she had been fighting with cancer.

Funerals are such a bizarre thing.  Sad, but a chance to see people you haven't seen for a long time, and to reconnect with people who share history of some sort.  I hadn't seen Linda for YEARS, but going back to my old church, and my old church family, and being in that space, and being with those people brought back a FLOOD of memories...good and bad.

The trip down has become increasingly more and more tedious as time has passed.  It's a 5 1/2 drive to Fairfield, and, to make matters worse, I'd just gone HALFWAY to Fairfield, on the same route, the day before to pick up my nieces who had been staying with my parents the previous week (because of the funeral, I volunteered to get them, so mom and dad wouldn't have to drive to the cities to bring them back, then turn around and drive to Fairfield from here, then head back over to the other side of the state after the service).  Driving down the INCREDIBLY BORING interstate 35 two days in a row was INCREDIBLY BORING!!!!

Anyway...there were some GOOD moments...the journey down involved a stop at the Maid Rite in Ankeny.  If you've never experienced Maid Rite, I feel sorry for you!  It's not for everyone, and it's not even particularly noteworthy, but, once you've had a Maid're hooked!

After almost backing into a car in the parking lot (my car has REALLY bad sight lines), which would have made the trip TOTALLY suck, I continued on to Fairfield.  I arrived around 7:30.

Andrew picked Tena (with whom I stayed) and me up, and we went for dinner/drinks at a new place, just off the square, called "The Burning Oak".

After dinner, we headed back to Tena's, chatted for awhile, then went to bed.

Monday morning, I got up, got ready, and headed to the funeral.  I left a little early to get coffee (Fairfield now has a Caribou!!!), and was, apparently, still in "city mode".  I left with JUST ENOUGH time to get coffee and get to the church...I THOUGHT!  Got coffee, and was at the church approximately THREE MINUTES LATER.  Killed the remaining 40 minutes checking Facebook and e-mail in my car!

The "celebration of life" for Linda was really nice.  People had some really lovely things to say, and it was a very nice service.  OF COURSE they ended it with the obligatory "make you cry" slide show and song.  Luckily, it was an AWFUL country song, and all I could focus on was how twangy the guitar was.  Good thing...otherwise I would have been a weepy mess.

I actually did really well until Russ, Linda's husband, got up and said that he wanted to hug/shake hands/talk to each and every one of us before we left.  Russ is an AWESOME guy, and he and I have done RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) TWICE, so have been very close in the past. He's SUCH a great guy, and my heart aches for him right now.  Needless to say, I BURST into tears...sigh...

I stayed for the "Baptist luncheon" (an amazing thing...if you ever have the chance to partake in one, I HIGHLY recommend it!), and had the chance to chat with some dear old friends (and mom and family friend Diane, who came for the service).  I didn't stay very long because I needed to RUSH back to Tena's to get out of the suit (in August!), and, more importantly the MAN SPANX I wore to keep everything "firm and tight" (since I was seeing people I hadn't seen for a long time, and didn't want to be the MARSHMALLOW-Y me that I currently am!!).

MAN SPANX are a tool of the DEVIL, I think.  I made sure to let mom and Diane know that if I passed out, it was because of the MAN GIRDLE squeezing the life out of me, and to CUT ME OUT OF IT WITH THE JAWS OF LIFE, if the need arose!!!  I DID get several comments on looking svelte and trim, so I GUESS it was worth not being able to breathe for most of the morning...

After the funeral, I met Tena at her place, and we headed out for a little shopping.  I LOVE the Fairfield square!  Such unique shops, and so many BIZARRE places for a town in the middle of the country with a population of 10,000.  Where else, in a town this size, can you find Maharishi Vedic Teas, an Indian Restaurant, a chocolate boutique, and TWO Chinese restaurants nestled amongst a consignment shop, a hardware store, and a real estate office??!!  Kooky...and FABULOUS!!!

We drove out to Jefferson County Park to check out a possible wedding venue for Tena and Andrew's wedding next October, then met Andrew later for dinner at India Cafe...which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE...

After that, we picked up Avery, and took a walk on part of the loop trail around the edge of town (which wasn't there when I lived there, but which I REALLY wish had been!)...

After the walk, we went back to Tena's, sat around talking for awhile, then went to bed.

On Tuesday, Tena had a haircut so left for that while I packed and loaded stuff back into the car (for the LONG, LONG, TEDIOUS trip back to the cities!).  Tena had a doctor's appt. in Iowa City, so I decided to go back a different way so that I could hang out in Iowa City (my college alma mater) for a while.

What a BLAST FROM THE PAST!!!  Lots of changes, but lots of things that were exactly the same!  I started by exploring/shopping Old Capitol Mall, then walked around the ped mall for awhile.

I walked around campus for awhile, by myself...

...then met Tena, and continued the tour down by the river (which has flooded repeatedly over the last couple of years, DECIMATING the theater, art, and music buildings, as well as the student union).

After walking around campus, we headed to Micky's Irish Pub for lunch (the "conglomeration" ROCKS!)...

...shopped at Prairie Lights Bookstore, and an art gallery nearby, then I headed back to my car.

To continue the "nostalgic-ness", I drove by the house at 221 S. Lucas.

I spent my senior year in this house with Jane, Sheryl, Kyl, Liz, Carol, Marty, and was TRULY amazing!!!!

After the additional jog down memory lane, I hit the interstate, and headed back to the cities!  The reason for the trip was definitely sad, but there were delightful moments of fun and nostalgia too!!!!

Here's hoping YOU were able to "visit your past" recently too!!!!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Italy...The FINAL DAY, and Home Again!!!

Our final day in Italy started EARLY!  We set the alarm for 4:50, got up, showered, packed, and braced for the final, grueling travel day.  We checked out, grabbed a quick coffee, and a pastry from the breakfast area of the hotel (not much had been put out yet), then rolled our bags outside to wait for the water taxi.  We had a SLIGHT scare when the desk clerk said that there was no note about a taxi having been secured, but, a quick call to the taxi service confirmed that we were, indeed, scheduled for a pickup.

While we were waiting for the taxi, Chase jogged by.  It was a nice, final nod to our tour companions!  At that time of day, there were very FEW tourists out, so he could actually jog without running into someone every 6 inches!

The water taxi arrived, and took us to the airport.  A brief word about water taxis...they are EXPENSIVE!!!!  The 20 minute ride to the Venice airport cost 120 euros (roughly $200.00!).  We balked a little bit at paying it (and left Venice with EXACTLY 1/20th of a euro to our name), but the ride from the hotel to the airport was one of our FAVORITE parts of our trip!  It was early. The sun was just coming up.  It wasn't crowded.  It wasn't hot.  We got a private tour of some of the canals and the lagoon...TOTALLY amazing!

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare (we were worried about getting there in time, which is why we opted for the private water taxi, instead of the "public water taxi"), and boarded our flight for Rome on Alitalia.

The flight was smooth, and we arrived in Rome around 7:30 a.m.  Our flight to the states wasn't until 11:30, but we couldn't print my boarding pass from the computer at the hotel for some reason, and needed to be there early for an international flight anyway, so were glad we had the time.

There was no one at our departing gate when we arrived, so I sat on the floor in front of it until someone DID arrive, and was finally able to get my boarding pass printed.  Bonus...we got business class from Rome to JFK!

The flight to the states was tediously long, but I DID get to watch four movies ("Life of Pi", "Jack Reacher", "Jack the Giant Slayer", and...something else (and which TOTALLY escapes memory right now...must have been good...!))!!

We arrived at JFK a few hours before our flight to Minneapolis, and New York proved to be a TEDIOUS leg of the journey!  If possible, I will NEVER fly through JFK again...

We boarded our flight on time, but the catering cart for 1st class (of which we were not a part) was stuck in another part of the airport.  The 1st class passengers voted to leave without the food and beverages, and we began our HOUR LONG journey down the jetway to the runway.  Forty five minutes into the jetway ride, the pilot informed us that the cargo door light was on, and that we needed to pull off the jetway to check it out.  Thirty minutes later the pilot came back on to report that the door was fine, but that the indicator light was still on, so we'd have to go back to the gate to have it checked out.

Thirty minutes later, we were on our way back to the gate.  After another thirty minutes of waiting, the pilot came back on to say that the door was fine (except for a dime and a quarter that had somehow become lodged in the door frame), but that something else was now wrong with the plane.

We got off the plane to switch to ANOTHER plane...or tried to.  No one in the terminal knew what was going on, so they wouldn't let us back out of the terminal.  THAT finally got straightened out, we boarded a DIFFERENT plane, and were told that it would now be a TWO HOUR taxi to the runway.

We EVENTUALLY got to the runway, took off, and arrived in Minneapolis at 2:00 a.m., Wednesday morning (we were originally scheduled to arrive at 8:20 p.m. Tuesday night!)...TWENTY SIX HOURS from door of hotel to door of "home"!

Duane had to work the next day, but LUCKILY took the morning as "work at home" time, and was able to pull himself together to go in at noon.  I was REALLY glad I didn't have to work that day.  I spent most of it wandering around in a fog!

Wow...what an AMAZING trip!  UNBELIEVABLE cities and sites!  FABULOUS tour companions!  A STUPENDOUS travel company through which everything was booked.  TRULY the trip of a lifetime!

Here's hoping YOU were able to enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of an INCREDIBLE place recently too!!!!

Italy...Day SEVEN!!!

Our last full day in Italy started with an AWESOME breakfast at the hotel.  We'd HAD IT with crowds, so decided to try to get to La Salute (the Church of St. Mary of Good Health, which was built to thank God for delivering Venetians from the Bubonic Plague in 1630).  We'd been admiring it from across the Grand Canal since we arrived in Venice, and wanted to get a closer look.  After securing a water taxi for the following morning to get us to the airport, and checking to see if we could get a quick pastry and some coffee before we left, we wound our way through Venice toward the Accademia.

The GREAT thing about smartphones, and map apps, is that they CAN be helpful.  The NOT SO GREAT thing about smartphones is that sometimes the apps work, and sometimes, depending on wifi service, hotspots, etc., they don't.  Mine was mostly a "don't".  I got really great directions while we were in our various hotels, but, once we got out onto the streets of whatever city we were in, it was a quick and painful "crash and burn".

So...remembering vaguely how the app said to get there, we headed in the general direction of the Accademia bridge (the closest to where we were).  There are random and occasional directional signs on the sides of various buildings, so we followed the ones we could find, and DID get to the bridge.  No surprise, the bridge was PACKED with people.  What WAS a surprise was that, once we crossed, and started following the signs to La Salute, the crowds disappeared, and we actually had room to move around and walk.  It was LOVELY!!!



We sat on the steps of La Salute, looked out over the bustling canal, toured the inside of the church (which was mostly closed off for renovations), walked along the pier, and had lunch at a little sandwich shop nearby (and ate our sandwiches on a tiny bridge across a small canal).  It was peaceful, and relaxing, and a really nice start to the day!!

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel for a few minutes, then went to the Royal Gardens to meet our tour group for the "Walking Tour of Venice".  According to the Avventure Bellissime website, this was supposed to take place as a introduction to the city on the previous day, but, for some reason, it got switched to our second day there.  As a result, we'd already seen some of the stuff on the tour, but, it was good to fill in some "background information" on what we'd seen, and we were able to see some things that we hadn't had a chance to the day before.

For some reason, I didn't write down the name of our tour guide, but, as was the case with all of our other guides, she was very knowledgeable, and did an excellent job!  Sandy, Bill, Barb, Tiffany, and Megan DID end up in our group this time (yay!), but Mikey, Lee, Loren, and Derek did NOT (boo!), and we almost lost Jim, as he was supposed to be in the other group, even though Marilyn was in ours.  We got it all worked out (so that he could be with Marilyn), and headed off to explore the city.

We started at St. Mark's Square, toured the church (GORGEOUS!), and learned about the history (and centuries of additions) of this amazing building.  One of the highlights was seeing the Golden Alterpiece, (Pala d'Oro).  Rick Steves' describes it as containing "250 blue-backed enamels with religious scenes, all set in a gold frame and studded with 15 hefty rubies, 300 emeralds, 1,500 pearls, and assorted sapphires, amethysts, and topaz (c. 1100)."  It was BREATHTAKING!

Our guide said that it was spared from plunder when Napoleon sacked the city because it was hidden behind a large painting.

After St. Mark's, we wound our way through the city, exploring sights like the Realto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, various churches and piazzas, and government buildings.

We ended up at St. Mark's Square, and, after I made a REALLY, REALLY long hike to find a public bathroom, RAN back to the Royal Gardens to meet our group for a "Grand Canal Tour" of the city.  This time, Duane and I were the "odd men out"...Mikey's group and Tammy's group were in one boat, and Duane and I were in a boat with seven strangers.  I was NOT happy...!

The tour was hot, and the canals were crowded, but we saw the city from a different vantage point.  We saw the "leaning tower of Venice" (since many structures are built upon and supported by wooden logs, buildings "settle" telling how much longer the building will remain standing)...

...and saw "real life" things like the Venice hospital (complete with water ambulances)...

...gas stations, the cemetary island, and lots of cool waterfront villas.

After the tour, we made plans to meet as many of our "tour buddies" as possible for a final dinner.  Mikey, Lee, Loren, and Derek ran off to do some quick shopping.  We went with them, but then decided to get back to St. Mark's Square to wait for everyone to get there.

Jim and Marilyn arrived, followed by Tammy, Dennis, Chase, and Ann.  Mikey, Lee, Loren, and Derek arrived a few minutes later.  Tammy's group had to take care of some business back home, so wasn't able to join us.  We said our goodbyes on the piazza (sad!), then the rest of us found a nice cafe off the square (except for Sandy's group, which we didn't see again).  We were going to have drinks and sit and listen to the music at the Florian, but the "sit down fee" was 6 euros, and drinks averaged about 11 euros...too expensive!

Ai Due Viscovi was a DELIGHTFUL little ristorante!  We were the only people there for most of the meal.  We had an AWESOME time sharing stories and experiences from the trip, exchanging e-mail addresses, and chatting one last time.

After dinner, Duane and I attempted to find an internet cafe to check in for our flight from Rome to New York.  We never DID find it, and, when we asked a shop owner near where we THOUGHT the place was, were informed that they closed at 8:00 (it was now 8:30).

We headed back toward the hotel, seeing an AMAZING full moon over the Grand Canal, and some fun paper lanterns, then went back to our room, packed, showered, and went to bed so that we could get up at 5:00 to get ready and catch our water taxi.

Our adventures in Italy were ALMOST over...