Jet-lagged and exhausted, I was awoken at 6:00 am by the sounds of a marching band. What? I poked Al and asked him, "Do you hear what I hear?" He mumbled, 'Yeah, a marching band is playing Val d'Isere.' I tip toe to the window, and sure enough, down in the street, a marching band decked out in their lederhosen and dirndls are playing their hearts out. Hhhhmm
Unable to sleep, Karin and I went for a run in the countryside. And I was astounded by the cleanliness, the orderliness, the care with which the residents maintained their village. All of the Bavarian style houses had perfect, blooming flowers in flower boxes on their balconies, the cars in the driveways were spotlessly gleaming in the morning sun, and the cows in the pastures - had not a speck of dirt on them. As my friend Maryluz says, 'I think this is the kind of place where the leaves have to ask permission to fall from the trees....'.
After a lovely breakfast of fruit, and sausages (breakfast sausages, I believe), our German friends wanted to take us mountain biking and hiking in the German Alps. Excellent! Sounds like fun. The guys took their bikes, and Karin and I planned to hike. Al and I thought - no problem - some switchback trails winding up the mountain - piece of cake. Not the case. This was two hours - straight up the mountain - at a vicious incline.
After clomping up the mountain wearing Thomas' hiking boots (Thomas is the dark haired, 7 foot tall guy), after being passed on the trail by a) little children swinging baskets in their hands, b) elderly couples taking in the mountain air.... I was feeling dispirited, and opted to take the cable car down the mountain, while the guys rode down.
Back in the car, and off to Munich. Our friends took us to a Bavarian style restaurant for dinner. After a lovely meal of pork knuckles and cloven hooves, we ended the meal with dessert - dessert sausages, if I recall correctly.
After a series of planes, trains and taxis, we now found ourselves in the charming town of Bruges, Belgium, where Al switched his diet from red meat, to Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer. This town is so beautiful and charming, it reminds me of the illustrations in a Hans Christian Anderson children's book.
For sushi. Yum!
And had dinner in a restaurant that focused only on mushrooms. The chef kept sending out dish after dish, each tastier than the one before. Fantastic!
Nora and Tom.
Our thanks to Tom and Francisco for a great evening!
And then we were off to Riga, Latvia for business, and some exploration of the countryside.
We spent a weekend taking our time driving from Riga to a seaside town called 'Pavilosta', and stopped in each little town along the way. Beautiful.
At the seaside in Pavilosta.
Please note the jackets......it was a little chilly....
Hard to visualize what I imagine must have been a chaotic scene - thousands of people, entire families - with infants crying, desperately trying to board the Red Cross boats for passage to safety.
Our road trip included a stop at my father's ancestral farmlands.
As well as many fruit and nut trees, and wild berries of all sorts.
Near the property, we found some vestiges of the Soviet occupation of Latvia. A field of abandoned concrete hangers used to house and conceal Soviet fighter jets.
Al on the runway. The actual tarmac has been pilfered long ago.
This place is cavernous. Al was thinking that this was a good location for a nightclub - possibly named 'The Hanger' or 'The Bunker'.
Later that night, we had a head-banging good time at the Metallica concert in Riga......
...with our pals Valter and Oksana. Thanks for the tickets, Valter!
Next - Italy.
We began our Italian vacation in the Chianti region of Tuscany.....
....... at a wine and olive oil producing farm called 'Castello di Meleto'.
The surrounding countryside is really beautiful.....
..... the food and wine - absolutely outstanding.
And the architecture speaks for itself.
Lago di Garda. This is our kind of place - a beautiful village, full of athletic folks from all over Europe. Some windsurfing, some mountain biking, some hiking.
Sadly, we were skunked on the wind.
But, we managed the celebration part.
.... and then drinks at a bar in Lago di Garda.....
For me, this was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday. But now, that's it. No mas. Basta.
Some observations of our trip: too much red meat really does wreak havoc on a pseudo-vegetarian's system; summer no longer exists in Europe and parts of Canada; and finally, you can take the girl out of Scarborough, but you cannot take Scarborough out of the girl......