The Plan

It's optimistic to label this 6 wk trip "planned." BUT we knew our dates: 6/2 - 7/14/2009! Greg did spend 3 wks reading Rick Steves' great travel book on Germany-Austria. I did spend 10 days reading Greg's notes & Googling places to stay in towns Greg listed. So that was The Plan... not up to my usual obsessive standards.

But we did have Two Purposes clearly defined -- visit our little clan in Munich & smell the lavender fields in Provence with my sister, a retired French teacher. Greg & I both really looked forward to seeing family, & I needed a break from non-stop work.

Flying with Fingers Crossed

Always tight with a dollar, we quickly booked Cheryl a free ticket on an American/British Air's Seattle ==> New York ==> London ==> Munich flight. But Greg didn't want to spend the ridiculous price to accompany me on AA. So he booked Air Canada's Seattle==> Montreal ==> Munich flight. Luckily our flights left Seattle within 15 minutes of each other. In Munich Greg's Air Canada would arrive 1 hour before my British Air... Not bad!!

Then I spent 2 sleepless nights worrying about how we'd meet up in the large, unknown Munich airport! We had no phones to call each other. What if 1 of us would be delayed? Even an overnight delay? How would we contact each other?

The Main Info Desk in the Munich airport agreed to be our message center. Burger King became our meet-up place. I got Greg to agree that any change in plans or any problems would positively result in a message at the Info Desk. With that in place I could finally go to sleep:)

The flights & meet-up worked like a charm. No luggage lost. No delayed flights. No screaming babies. I even enjoyed a funny movie & some reruns of Old Christine playing on a mini-screen on the back of my neighbor's chair. The happy reunion at Burger King was an auspicious start to our adventure, plus everyone working at the airport was helpful and spoke pretty good English.

My next challenge -- how/where to get Euros & buy local bus/tram tickets -- was also easily accomplished right in the airport, thanks again to the gals at the Main Info Desk.

So armed with Laurie's emailed bus directions & our luggage on wheels, we somehow managed to bus our way to Laurie & Eric's apt -- not too worse for wear! Truly amazing for a couple of geezers. How wonderful to collapse into their bed after 27 hours of awake time. Thank you to our little clan for lending us their apt for 2 nights while they travel in Italy!

Munich to Prague- Can Our Luck Hold?

After 2 good nights of rest in Laurie's apt, we rose very early to repack our stuff into smaller suitcases for 3 nights in beautiful Prague. It was great to leave the heavy loads at the apt! So the bus trip to Hauptbahnhof train station was a snap. We were 45 min. early for the direct train to Prague... master plan was working beautifully. I got in line to have my RailEurope 8-trip pass stamped for trip #1, the official stamped my pass, & asked for my passport. OMG!! It was in the stuff I left at Laurie's apt. I was an idiot & Greg was an amazingly good sport! So we drag our suitcases (which are now feeling heavier) back to the bus for another 25 min trip through town, raced to get the passport, caught the return bus to the station, stood in line to see the same official with passport in hand. But too bad... the direct train left 10 min. ago. The next train to Prague? 3-1/2 hours later, with a change-train in Schwandof. UGH! Rather than spend that time trying to find a comfortable seat in Hauptbahnhof station, we hauled our luggage (how did it get so heavy!!?) back on the bus & fell in the bed for a 1 hour nap. Then back to the station on the bus for our train.

Hallelujah!! The train arrived, we had our tickets, our money, our passports, our luggage, our snacks. We hauled our weary bodies into vacant seats -- looking forward to Prague!

Beautiful Prague

What a lovely city! We took a bus from the train station to the stop nearest our hotel & quickly realized that we were in another era. From the centuries-old cobbled streets to the skyline of ancient buildings, churches, & towers topped with spires, Prague is a storybook site! Our hotel, The Bishop's House #2, was in a perfect location, just across the famous Charles Bridge from Old Town, where all tourists want to visit. In so many ways this entire area reminded me of the French Quarter in N.O. -- both very old, unique in character & architecture, with wall-to-wall people walking the narrow streets. The walk across the Charles Bridge into Old Town is a special treat. The river it crosses is magnificent (the Vltava). Musicians & artists line the bridge with crowds around them. Oh, so much like the French Q-- and what they played was Dixieland!!WOW! Walking the bridge was a treat, which we did at least 6 times.

For me a highlight of Old Town was a magnificent store called Swarovski. The display windows were covered in clear Swarovski crystals of all shapes, perfectly lit for maximum effect. The creations inside I've never seen before- colorful birds perched on branches, colorful flowers, and jewelry -- all elaborately made with the finest man-made crystals in the world. Amazing works of art!

Another find was a small coffee - dessert shop right down the street from Swarovski. 2 gals stood out front all day making delicious crepes. Yummy! Chocolate or strawberry. Ham & cheese or spinach & mushroom. Unbelievably cheap prices, esp for such an elegant little business in the heart of the tourist area!

On our 3rd booked day, we took the bus to The Castle that overlooked the city & the river from a hilltop...quite a site with its basilica, cathedral, & many clustered buildings. Wish we'd done a tour, but we were both pretty creaky from all the walking, so 3-4 hours on site was all we could muster. It was beautiful.

Did I fail to mention SHOPPING? Prague's Czech crystals are certainly not Swarovskis, but they're a bargain for 2nd best:) So I did my part to help the economy & can't wait to show off my new earrings. Also, my new fancy garnet earrings just scream for a night on the town! And thinking of future customers, I bought some lovely Baltic amber stones. My fingers are itching to wrap some wire around them.

June 8 was scheduled for our return to Munich for 1 night's sleep at Laurie's apt, then on June 9 pick up our rental car & begin our drive through the German countryside. But guess what?...

Prague- A Coquille Girl's Fall from Grace

What a lovely, but exhausting day I'd had at the Castle in Prague. Too bad I was carrying too much weight (ok, on and off my body), so I was pretty much exhausted & ready to catch the bus with Greg & head for The Bishop's House. Walking along the cobbled busstop "island" in the middle of the busy street, I finally saw our bus approaching. Too bad I didn't see the 6" step-down right before my eyes. So like a good Coquille Girl, my left foot missed the step, foot turned inward parallel to curb with outside of ankle "rolling" downward over the step-down, as my gazelle-like frame (NOT!) hurtled toward the cobbles. I picture this vividly as I'm writing & wonder again how I didn't smack my face into the stones, leaving my front teeth for future archeologists to ponder!? I do remember screaming at the intense pain in my ankle & my torqued knee, then rolling over on my back as fast as I could to re-align my foot, knee, & hip. Another OMG a la Cheryl!! What did I do to us on WK #1 of a 6 wk trip?! During the minute I stared at my ankle, swelling bulged like an ostrich egg where my outside ankle bone used to live, but amazingly all pain was now gone.

Poor Greg wasn't looking as I fell, but a young man with a cell phone arrived on 1 hand with Greg quickly following. Then a second local man arrived with a chair (Did it fall from the sky into this busy area?!) to lift me into. After some debate about what to do, we decided I was best on the ground with foot elevated on my backpack & call an ambulance.

Fast-forward to a Prague hospital ER where I see dark, empty hallways & absolutely no patients --only the 2 ambulance men & a kind nurse who spoke no English. Greg was pulled aside to discuss money. Finally I'm wheeled into an exam room where Dr. Marcel greets me in English. I'm so grateful to hear his haulting English, as he began checking all body parts starting at the head to see what I'd banged into the cobbles. When he got to The Egg, he knew that only the ankle needed x-rays. Interestingly during the hour that elapsed since The Fall, I was the only one who ever mentioned ice for The Egg! I did this upon arriving in the ER entry. "Sorry... we have no ice." Could that be?! Or was it a language problem? Then during Dr. Marcel's exam when I asked again-- "Sorry. No ice!" But then he spoke in Czech to the nurse, who arrived with 2 ice packs. Finally! I confess that this dampened my confidence in any further medical feedback, but I was still very grateful for the help.

After reading the x-ray, the news was good==> no break or fractures. Very bad sprain. 10 days non-weight-bearing & on crutches, transitioning after that as possible w/o crutches (which explains why I'm sitting at this computer!) RX for a poultice goo all around ankle, gauze bandage on each side of ankle, all wrapped with supportive ace bandage. Finally instructions to keep foot elevated WITH ICE for 48 hours. Yes, ICE! Then came the metal crutches with telescoping, adjustable "legs," rubber tips, strong plastic hand-holders, & at the top a plastic semi-circle that was wayyyy to big to wrap around the back of my arm. They accommodated my request to give us all my records, including a CD with my x-ray. Ambulance cost 1755k (~$70). All hospital care, including the new metal crutches, was 2350k (~$85)! They called a taxi to get us back to The Bishop's House & handed me my new crutches. Honestly, I do believe I was 10 times more likely to break my neck WITH the crutches than just being born a Coquille Girl! No one gave me a clue how to use the crutches. In fact, it was Greg who told me I was holding the crutches backwards! Interestingly, before letting me go, they retrieved the 2 precious ice packs. And during my recouperation Greg found that the only place to get ice was at the nearby Subway sandwich place where he bought our "recouperation dinners" each night!

I simply can't describe what effort it took for a clumsy, out-of-shape senior with no balance to hobble & hop on 1 good leg, with poor Greg holding my stomach & back in each hand as I teetered on my 3 "legs"! If it weren't so scary, it would be cartoon-funny! To get to our room required walking UP about 15 wooden steps that spiraled. That was almost a disaster, as hopping 10" up a step did not work well. So I Sat-Up the steps with great success.... until I had to somehow stand straight at the top. I'm sure I'm now guilty of TMI, but I'll sum up by saying that I AM IN AWE of folks who deal with disabilities, esp in countries where "handicap access" is an unknown concept.


I've puzzled the problems with our medical coverage like all Americans have-- high costs, uninsured & under-insured Americans. But what I've learned from Laurie's experiences in Germany (which she was too politically correct-- unlike her mother-- to fully describe in her blog) and from my experience in Prague, is how OUTSTANDING our medical care is. Yes, it costs a lot. Yes, some children & others are uninsured. I don't know what to do about that. But I hope some solutions can be found w/o sacrificing the quality & options that we enjoy in the U.S.

I bet you think the saga is over, huh? Well, it's not... :)

Train Adventure - Prague to Where?

In the flash of a 3 second mishap, The Plan now needed re-thinking. Clearly we couldn't travel with me teetering/hopping on crutches-- up & down steps, curbs & escalators while poor Greg is balancing me, lifting me, carrying everything, and doing all the work. I know if the situation were reversed, my back couldn't handle all that! So flat out on the Bishop's bed with iced foot elevated, I reluctantly cancelled the first 5 precious days we'd planned for driving through the German countryside. Luckily The Bishop's House added 2 extra nights stay in our lovely room tucked up in the rooftop of the well-preserved old building in Prague.

 After 2 extra days hold-up in bed in Prague, it was time to head to Munich, knowing that Laurie's empty & welcoming apt awaited us. During these 3 unscheduled days in Munich, we hoped to get a 2nd medical opinion so we could decide the fate of the remaining 5 wks of my trip.

HOWEVER, I cannot describe how much I dreaded the exhausting process to get from attic to a waiting cab, then the unknown challenges of negotiating Prague's main rail station with crutches, then the 6 hour train ride to Munich. Oh, it did seem impossible, really. In fact, I confess that the entire situation, the exhaustion & guilt cost a few weepy moments! (But then, you knew that already, right?)

I couldn't even sit down or stand up without help. With Greg's strong arms to pull me up things & support me going down things, we managed to get to the main rail station in Prague. I'll sum up here the 60 minutes it took once inside its vast halls -- nowhere to sit, lots of stops to sit on my suitcase, a close call when both crutches suddenly splayed out on a wet marble floor <== another save by Greg, escalators that were terrifying- esp the DOWN ones. (Finally a man grabbed my arm so Greg could manage our 2 suitcases & at 1-2-3, I hopped onto the fast-moving steps firmly held by this stranger. There were way too many challenges to list here, but 3 more cheers for disabled folks who cope with this every day in other countries! Finally with physical lifting by 2 more strangers, Greg, crutches & I got seated on our well-planned DIRECT train to Munich, a 6-hour trip with many stops. No problem, right? We spent 2 hours in our train cabin talking to a wonderful young woman from Denmark named Pa-CILL-le. There was an instant bond. We even navigated the subject of Obama vs Bush, where she handled Greg's undisguised pro-Bush comments with grace & polite, gentle challenges... while I sat on pins & needles hoping things would stay civil:) They did! It was a joy.

But quite unexpectedly the train stopped for good at Schwandof, about 2/3 of the way to Munich. So once again getting down the steps required the strong arms of strangers with Greg lugging all the baggage. We never quite learned why the DIRECT train routing didn't work, but were told our 2nd train would arrive about 3pm. Sure enough at 3pm a train appeared, & Pacille agreed to get in fast & dump her luggage on 4 seats (including 1 for my leg, of course). But as Greg & another stranger were getting ready to lift me up the train steps, another local told us that THIS WAS NOT THE TRAIN TO MUNICH! The next train was... at 3:06!! I asked Greg to get Pacille off this train. But as Greg boarded the train, it began moving to God-knows-where. I will never forget his dismayed & worried face peering at me through the glass as this train moved away! And I will never forget how terrified I was. Yea, I burst into tears in front of 20 strangers. I must have been a pretty pathetic site with my bandaged, iced foot sitting on ALL our luggage, trying not to drop my clumsy crutches, & my husband & Pacille gone. But the tear really began to flow when I realized that Greg had ALL our money, both our passports, & all our train tickets in the jacket he was wearing. OMG!!! (The other OMG's were nothing compared to this one!)

Are you guys still awake reading this?! Go get some coffee. There's more...

David, Sigia, Christina, Tomas, Pacille-- My Heroes

The next 6 hours are an emotional blur for me. I sat at the train station having no clue what to do next. Clearly I could barely manage myself, not to mention our 2 heavy suitcases. Everyone waiting at the station knew what had happened. This amazing family from San Diego immediatly stepped up & took charge. David & his wife Sigia convinced me that the only sane thing to do was go to Munich on the next train, as that was The Plan that Greg would know. They comforted me with the reminder that young, strong Pacille was with Greg & would help him in all regards, esp to realize that this is what I would do. Besides, what could I do basically stuck outside after everyone who knew the situation got on the Munich train w/o me?! I couldn't even stand up from the low bench! Of course, none of us had any phones to reach each other. A 17 yr old girl from Germany kept handing me Kleenex, and when the REAL train to Munich arrived, lugged both heavy suitcases into an empty cabin to sit with me while the American family with their 3 teenage kids sat next door. Immediatly they all convened in my cabin as the train pulled off & we started making plans. Sigia ran to get a train official (what are "train stewardess & stewards" called???) to come over. Wow! Not only didn't I have a ticket, I didn't even have a passport! And I was sitting in a 1st Class cabin! Thank God he spoke English well enough to totally grasp the situation. Tomas offered to use his cell phone to call some key stations along the way, including Munich & the station we just left Schwandof to give Greg the message ==> Cheryl is going to Laurie's apt in Munich! Tomas promised that all these stations would make loud-speaker announcements IN ENGLISH for Greg to come get this message! Meanwhile I learned that Greg's Mystery Train would end at a stop where my train was stopping next. Announcements would be made at that station at well. So when we reached that large train station, all My Heroes got off the train and RAN like crazy through the large station looking for the man they'd recognize as Greg. Christina, the 17 yr old German, came back sweating from all the running she did in the 10 min. stop. Meanwhile I was just praying they'd find Greg AND esp that they'd all get back on our train before it left!!

NO LUCK! No one saw Greg, though Christina heard the message for Greg twice during her search.

It was a long fretful train ride back to Munich. I had no idea how I'd get to Laurie's apt at all, esp with no money! David & Sigia stopped in with a plan: I would ride in their family's cab to drop off their family at their Munich hotel, then David would ride with me to Laurie's apt, carry my luggage, get me settled, & return to his family. Thank God that I knew my way to Laurie's apt AND that I was the one with the key! David assured me that Greg would eventually appear at Laurie's apt, even if it was the next day (OMG!) because he simply wouldn't know where else to go.

So with that plan in place, Tomas the Train Official appears with the news that Greg has been found! He had Pacille had gotten off at the very next stop from our separation... where there was no building or personnel at all... & waited for the next train back to Schwandof (where we separated), convinced that I would have waiting for him there. Fortunately when back in Schwandof he told an employee there about our problem & received the message we had sent to all nearby stations! So he & Pacille waited for the next train to Munich, confident that eventually we'd meet up.

Meanwhile My Heroes & I celebrated the good news. David's family could once again resume their plans w/o me, but knowing I had no money David gave me 10 Euro as I now could wait for Greg's train in Hauptbahnhof station in Munich w/o going to Laurie's apt after all. AND I could now afford a Diet Coke:)

And more good news! Tomas had arranged for someone to meet me in Munich with a wheelchair! OMG! My exhausted right leg could not have been happier. Hans was indeed waiting with a wheelchair. As I had a 2 hour wait for Greg's train, he wheeled me into a Help Room, when volunteers care for Problem People like me as well as homeless. Their hot tea & bread/butter sandwich could not have tasted better!

At the appointed time for Greg's arrival, another volunteer wheeled me to correct train platform to wait for Greg's train to empty. I can't describe the group hug when I saw Greg & Pasille coming down the ramp. It was beautiful!

We reached Laurie's apt yesterday, swapping all the details of the story. Pacille went on to Italy as planned. Too bad I won't ever see these dear people again, but be confident that I WILL absolutely return David's family his 10 Euro with a special pair of handmade earrings for Sigia. I wish I had addresses for the others...

Ok, I confess I am exhausted just thinking about all this again, but I hope this wasn't too boring to relive with me. I'm putting a little weight on my bum foot again & am getting more confident on crutches. Of course, crutches are a lot easier to manage in Laurie's apt, PLUS my ankle is beginning to handle weight w/o pain! Given my ankle's improvement, I AM ENTIRELY OPTIMISTIC THAT THE PRAGUE DOC'S PROGNOSIS WAS 'RIGHT ON.' So Greg & I still plan to leave in our rental car tomorrow to drive 10 of the 15 days planned for our road trip through Germany's lovely countryside. I believe my foot will be good as new after this driving trip. (Ok, fingers crossed!) Barring any further OMG events, I'll try to write a BRIEF recap when we return to Munich for a happy face-to-face with our little clan. We have not yet seen Laurie, Eric, or the 2 gremlins at all, as they've been in Italy the entire time since June 2.

Meanwhile I'm hoping for TRULY BORING travel, with a foot that returns to normal while driving. Thanks for hanging in there through this saga:)

Walking Is a Miracle!

Before leaving in our rental car for the 10 days remaining of our planned road trip around Germany, I wanted to share the great news. Last night I tested weight on my bum foot with crutches. OK:) So let's try without crutches... YES!! No pain at all... just stiff. Of course, the very last thing I want to test is side-to-side ankle tilt. In fact until I recover, I plan to watch where I put every step to avoid ankle tilt & hope I see some of Europe besides my 2 feet & cobbled streets!!

But Greg is so relieved that I'm now able to get up/down from a sit & even wash dishes (I don't want to recover too soon, as I rather enjoyed a break from that stuff!)

When Greg returns to Laurie's apt with our rental car, we are off on another adventure... unfortunately with Greg driving & me navigating-- so you who know us well understand immediately that (mis)adventures are likely since these tasks should be flipped. I bought a Garmin Nuvi 360 w/o telling Greg & brought it to Europe to help with my navigating skills. HAHA! I hope Greg thinks this expensive electronic toy is as cool as I do:)

Ok, he's baaccckkk with our rental now & we're off........... So please keep fingers crossed for continued good news with the dumb foot & hopes that my brain cell eventually wakes up to keep me out of trouble!

Shirley, the Hitchhiker, Saves the Day

Greg & I were soooo ready to escape by car to anywhere, since house-bound in a foreign country without my jewelry-making gizmoes had all the appeal of an expensive prison. BUT our escape was well worth the wait! Rick Steves' terrific book on touring Germany & Austria set us on a counterclockwise scenic path through much of the western half of Germany, including parts of the Romantic Road, then westward to the Mosel & Rhine rivers, then down to Baden-Baden, & back to Munich. But it was Shirley who made this itinerary work.

I had to pick just the right time to introduce Shirley to Greg. As we sat in our newly-rented car with Greg's large, clumsy maps spread across our laps, I watched his geographic frustration begin to boil, trying to read the tiny print in the clutter. It was time for Shirley's big entrance. Luckily I had pre-programmed the new Garmin Nuvi 360 to get us from the rental car agency to our first stop. Before Greg knew what hit him, Shirley's calm voice was directing us down the road toward Rothenburg. Without question, that Garmin is the best investment either of us made for this trip to Europe! $140 for the device plus about $90 for software for Europe saved us untold HOURS of wasted time each day, plus gasoline @ $7/gal in Germany & France! Let's just say that whenever Greg & his maps disagreed with Shirley, Shirley was ALWAYS right! All "errors" by Shirley were really operator error-- that's me. I'm only a little jealous when I say that by the end of driving-day-1, Greg was in love with Shirley.

His 2nd favorite item in Europe was the rental car itself & the best deal I could find in my Google research. Sixt rental agency, a very reputable European company with outlets in major cities, was very responsive to my emailed questions & quoted us a fair price for a cheap car. Greg was delighted to see our Cooper Mini One, a sporty little car redesigned by BMW. So armed with our cute rental car & Shirley, we were off!

Yodeling & Nude Bathing

(OK, have I got your attention again?)

It's hard to be objective in summarizing our 10 day loop by car when just getting out of "prison" was such a joy, but I'll be as objective as I can. The countryside in Bavaria was lush green & beautiful. When the drive was hilly, I was in awe of all the layers of scenery-- sometimes trees & smooth grass, other times patches of cultivated farm land with precision-spaced rows of crops. The neighboring large cultivated patch might be at a different angle with a different green, but each row precisely spaced. German engineering, right?
Then in a turn in the narrow road, we'd spy the next village off in the green hills. All roof tops the same color... all clustered together into a small community, leaving the luxurious land between villages a lovely, uninterrupted patchwork of greens. Can you tell I like green?

We saw MANY ancient walled villages in the loop, but my favorite was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, our first stop. Laurie had insisted that we book our stay at Hotel Goldener Hirsch with a room overlooking "the view," which she would not describe. (I LOVE surprises!)

What a charming OOLLLLDDDD town with storybook beauty -- very narrow cobbled roads, thick stone wall encircling the town, lovely old stone buildings housing shops, food, & lodging. Nicole & Peter were terrific hosts & real characters! Because Nicole remembered my little clan's visit a few months back, she booked the same rooms for us so we could enjoy The View Laurie promised. WOW! All the greens you could imagine in the valley below our room, which also overlooked the town's wall & an ancient stone bridge in the distance. It was breathtaking. (Don't let the cheesy-cake pic below spoil the view... and YES, it's definitely OK to laugh!) Breakfast was an elegant affair overlooking The View & featuring traditional German breakfast foods-- juice, fruits, muesli, various sliced meats (ham, salami, & sliced sausages), wonderful baguettes & other yummy carbs, butter, sliced cheeses, boiled eggs, coffee, tea, milk. My hips expand as I write...

Another memorable highlight of our car trip was reaching the Mosel & Rhine rivers so we could take brief cruises on both. We saw castles, green vineyards, colorful waterfront towns, & the locks! I preferred the less commercial lazy Mosel, but both were lovely.

Then off we go for a longer day of driving a la Shirley in Greg's fun Cooper to my 2nd favorite Bavarian town, Baden-Baden, Germany. It had its

share of quaint ancient stone buildings & roads (see our hotel), as well as modern streets lined with trees & very exclusive shops. But sitting outside on a glorious day eating skewed shrimp salads at the trendy Wall Street Bistro, I couldn't count the number of chic, young fashionistas in strapless sundresses & fancy high-heeled shoes strolling through the cobblestone plaza (Why don't they ever fall on their face & twist their ankles?!) I suspect we even shared the same air with a few international movie stars. Let's just say that in Greg's Walmart wardrobe & my 1 elegant Ace-bandage open-toed "shoe," we made a unique fashion
statement here. Also, this was one EXPENSIVE town.

Did Greg pick Baden-Baden to enjoy its rich, elegant lifestyle? or its excellent symphony with free performances each day at 4pm?

No. When we arrived, I learned that Greg was intrigued by its 2 mineral water spas-- very elegant affairs in old historic buildings resembling palaces. The town's healing waters draw folks far & wide. OK, I was surprised that this appealed to my husband. What an unexpected treat! The spa Greg had in mind for us was the older, very classic one, with tall vaulted ceilings, painted stone walls, marble statues, reminiscent of the Roman baths I read about as a Latin major.
It featured saunas, exfoliating rubdown, massage, hot water, cold water, in-between water, but always nude water. Minor OMG here! He saved that surprise for last! This would take some mind-molding for me. As modest as I am (VERY), what are the odds that anyone will know me, right? Besides, I'll take my glasses off, so I won't know who's looking. Plus medicinal water means it might help my ankle. Yes! Finally, only 2 of the rooms we'll visit as we step through the process would be co-ed. OK then! I bought 2 admit tickets. Next I headed for the pharmacy to buy more medicine-goo to rub on what was left of The Egg. I enjoyed a chat with the druggist, laughing about my plans to go to the spa. SHE NIXED THE IDEA FLAT! It would worsen the swelling in my foot & lower leg. I honestly didn't know whether to be relieved about the nudity or upset about the lost money. Modesty vs money-- a real dilemma for Cheryl. But all ended well when our kind hotel owner totally refunded our money for the tickets. Phew in both regards:) We'd both enjoy visiting Baden-Baden again, and not just to see if I can do "it."

Neuschwanstein Castle- Couldn't see this :(
Linderhof Castle- We did see this :)

The last biggies on our loop through Bavaria are my favorite castle we couldn't visit & my favorite castle we did visit. If I could see only 1 castle, it would have been Neuschwanstein, a fairytale castle built by Crazy King Ludwig II. Unfortunately the day was drizzly, & I was warned that the long walk to reach it from the distant parking lots would be dangerous with a wimpy foot & 1 crutch. Travel books vote it THE castle to see. (self-pitying whine here) But of all the castles we could visit, my favorite was Linderhof, the smallest of Ludwig's castles. Designed to emulate Versailles on a much smaller scale, I found it more beautiful than Versailles, which is way beyond my merely-mortal taste.

Ah, yes... What about "Yodeling" in the title? WE DIDN'T HEAR ANY! I suspect it's all fake.... I resorted to yodeling myself, which wasn't pretty in our little cocoon of a car.

ANKLE UPDATE THROUGH BADEN-BADEN: Really looking good!! Hardly any Egg left! Yes, in Laurie's apt I could put weight on my foot, but I wasn't supposed to. Plus I found that after about 30 minutes I really needed to unweight my foot as it quickly got tired. Plus I'd be NUTS to walk on any cobbles or up/down all the stairs with that foot. So I graduated to ONE crutch:) But there was no pain, just swelling by day's end. I was getting pretty good with my one crutch, thanks to Peter in our Rothenburg hotel. "Let me show you how to use that thing! It's adjusted too high!" Whooohooo:)

Austrian Alps-- Cheryl's Secret Research Mission

Having survived our relaxing car trek around Bavaria, we returned to Munich, checking into Hotel Savoy, which would be home-base for our first visit with our Little Clan in 5 months. Laurie & family left God's Country in late February to work 6 months in Munich for Eric's company. (I can't wait til Aug 5 when they return:)

It was soooo good to hug The Gremlins again & find that they still remembered us:) Vivi is taller than her 5-1/2 yrs, has gaps where more teeth have flipped out (discovering that the Tooth Fairy flies internationally), & enjoyed correcting my German. Miles' long blond curls are now even longer, since they've never been cut in his almost-3-years. His passion for music & The Beat has grown. My dad's musician genes bubble through Miles. He'll pick up his mini-guitar, assume The Rock Star Stance, & cut loose to any music with a beat. IT'S TERRIFYING!! I'm still hoping he becomes a math professor! He is quite a character. Seeing the 4 members of Our Little Clan was my good OMG experience, & I wouldn't have missed that for the world.

Laurie is a whirlwind of contract work, mothering, & planning to fill any spare moment. So off we went to the countryside around Salzburg, Austria. Her agenda was to experience the Alps foothills at a working farm/B & B (Rettenbachgut) AND also take the Sound of Music tour. My SECRET agenda was to research these burning questions==> 1) Does anyone around here really yodel? 2) Do people actually wear lederhosen?

Too bad the weather in & around Salzburg was like Seattle in February-- raining (sometimes hard!), cool, with low-hanging clouds sometimes hiding our view of the impressive Alps. This definitely diminished the value of the Sound of Music tour by van. BUT the farm was a real treat for The Gremlins.

Vivi nursed the calves with her fingers. Miles discovered an array of mini-tractors for mini-farmers. Our Austrian hosts spoke no English, but were obviously grandparents, as we all shared the secret Grandparent Adoring Smiles & Hugs. Wonderful people- warm & gracious.

No trip is complete without visiting the local castle. This was a different experience for us because Hohenwerfen was not the golden, glitzy Cinderella castle, but a rugged, gray stone, imposing fortress, built centuries ago to ward off enemy invaders. This difference made it interesting.

Inside it was dark, with wooden slat ramps, walkways, & steep stairs, built in bare-minimum style just to accommodate us tourists. But it was the biggest challenge yet for my foot & 1 crutch. I confess that the stairs-- both in & out-- were sometimes too great a challenge, & I sat out parts of the tour.

The most fun was the performance of the Birds of Prey in the gardens outside. Owls, hawks, falcons, eagles, buzzards -- huge ones -- flew from 1 handler to the other. The flight paths were usually over our heads, with 1 bird tapping Laurie's hair! Why isn't my camera ever ready for such a shot?! Pictures don't do justice to the size & proximity of these impressive birds. We watched the show twice:)

This happened to be Laurie & Eric's 17 anniversary. Congrats to our wonderful daughter Laurie & husband Eric! Despite the dreary weather, you made this day sparkle for us!

CONCLUSIONS FROM CHERYL'S RESEARCH IN AUSTRIA: (1) NO to yodeling. The ONLY yodeling I ever heard was on the Sound of Music CD, played over & over by our tour guide in the van. I think yodeling was invented to sell Sound of Music CD's. (2) YES to lederhosen! Amazing that anyone can wear those tough, leather (suede), stiff pants. I actually saw a farm-hand (NOT an actor) going to work in the barn of our farm... So it's NOT just a costume that actors & tourists wear!! However, Vivi & Miles looked mighty cute in theirs. I now understand that lederhosen are indestructible. I've personally witnessed that big globs of ice cream wipe right off with a damp rag.

France Is Magical

On June 29, I said goodbye to Greg & our little clan at Laurie's apartment in Munich, loaded myself, a backpack, a suitcase & 1 crutch onto a bus, & then onto a train for the 7-1/2 hr. train ride from Munich to Paris. I was so very proud of myself & my left ankle for accomplishing this without forgetting my passport or falling down a step! After my previous week transitioning more weight onto the healing ankle (with 1 crutch for support when needed), I felt confident that I once again had 2 working ankles, barring any more stupidity. So the crutch I took along to France was just insurance for the next 10 days.

When I last saw my sister at the end of April in Louisiana, she was recovering from complete right-shoulder replacement & was grimacing through frequent PT sessions, highly motivated to recover in time for our trip to France together. There was little margin for error in her recovery & rehab. Then the other Coquille Girl's Fall from Grace (that's me) on June 7 added a little more unneeded suspense & drama to our travel plans. Let's just say that Mary should have been worried Big Time about hanging out with the Coquille Girls. Which of us sisters is more klutzy? It's a close call...

But as I hauled my load of luggage through Gare de l'Est train station in the heart of Paris & walked along the streets to our hotel, I felt the energy of this magic city fill me, felt the strength in my body, & felt very proud that I'd made it this far all by myself. WOWWWW!

Our hotel (La Parisiana) was adequate at best. But for ~$150/night I guess you don't get much in Paris, especially near a major train station. We did have 3 twin beds & a bathroom. Too bad that it was hotter than hell in France for our entire trip & that the room had no a/c. By hot I mean about 90-95F days & about 80-85F inside our room at bedtime.

Marilyn & Mary arrived later that night. It was great to see them & know that we had all arrived safely from so far away:) We spent 5 nights together in Paris, a city full of must-see historic sites. We did & saw a lot, but I'll just describe my 2 favorite activities there. Our boat ride down the beautiful Seine at dusk was my favorite. It was a clear afternoon. The breeze on the river was such a relief from the heat. Our seats along the rail in stern reminded me of many years boating in the NW with Greg. The wind in my face, hair blowing, boats passing us in both directions... It was wonderful!

 PLUS the sites we saw along the river were among Paris' best -- the Louvre, the Bastille, Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses, elegant, expensive apartments & office buildings, the Eifel Tower, and thousands of residents sitting along the river enjoying the afternoon & waving at boats. We even saw a dance competition-- older couples ballroom dancing to big-band music right at the river's edge. Paris is truly magical!

 I know that the reason my sister suggested this trip was mainly to show us her Lavender Fields in Provence. With lavender, she's like a cat in catnip-- half-crazed! I suspect additional travel was really a concession to Mary & me, & I'm grateful:) So we spent a day in Bruges, Belgium, with its many Venice-like canals. Can you imagine how heavenly hot Belgian waffles tasted, covered in Belgian chocolate sauce? Plus we helped a chocolateer make his next batch of assorted chocolates. (NOT! But he did let us hold a knife & pose:) Bruges chocolateers get pretty creative with their eatable art, as you can see. Plus we admired a lot of Belgian lace. 1 cute little lady making lace posed for a picture & added a smile for 2 euro.

It was time to pick up our rental car & head to catnip country-- the Provence region in the southeast corner of France, where it is supposed to be hot. (Lavender NEEDS heat.) I kept asking Marilyn why she couldn't just visit me & Sequim, WA to see lavender. A lot cheaper, not as hot, PLUS easy access to me???!!!

In a rental car, we reached Memories of Provence, a B & B Marilyn booked in the countryside near the small town of Coustellet in Provence. Neil & Natalie made us feel so welcome in their gracious country home. Eating breakfast each morning in the shade of a lush grape arbor chatting with 2 other wonderful families was a real treat. Plus Neil's croissants & pastries still hot from the nearby bakery weren't bad either! The B & B was home base each day for all-day excursions through the foothills of the Luberon mountains & their lavender fields. Amazing scenery!!! I'll summarize 4 days by saying we saw A LOT of lavender!! And check out the sunflowers! They were OUTRAGEOUS:)
However, the most remarkable & very personal experience I had in Provence was attending Sunday Mass at the Senanque Abbey. After seeing in Europe so many centuries-old cathedrals with their gold glitz, marble curly-cues, ornate life-size statues of saints, & extravagant art encrusted with gemstones, this ancient abbey in its dull gray stone simplicity with its unadorned vaulted interior stands in stark contrast. I'd heard Marilyn describe for many years how beautiful this monastery is, sitting alone in a lush valley between mountains & surrounded by lavender. (Please click here for a video.)
A small group of Cistercian monks lives there in silence to work the lands, pray, & study. I've never really understood that life of isolation. But in the solemn quiet of the abbey as Mass began & monks entered, their rich deep voices chanting slowly in complex perfect harmonies that echoed off the vaulted ceiling, my understanding & appreciation grew. In just a few solemn measures sung by these simple, holy men, this life made some sense. It was beyond beautiful in every way-- their voices, the unadorned simplicity of this church, the solemn respectful demeanor of the congregation (mostly tourists), the surrounding green valley, and Marilyn's purple lavender everywhere. Anyone would feel the serenity & holiness of this place. I hope I never lose this wonderful memory. If I go to France again, this is the one place I know I'd love to revisit.

After 5 days driving through this extraordinary part of France, we returned the rental & took the train back to La Parisiana for our last night together in Europe. We had packed, bathed, & were trying to get cool enough to want to go to bed at 10:30 pm. The phone rang. Reception said there was a problem & asked Marilyn, who answered the phone, to come down. So she & Mary got dressed & went downstairs to handle the issue. Soon the phone rang again. This time Marilyn told me to come down & help straighten out the bill. Oh great! So I got dressed, gathered my Official Notebook with all my Official Printouts of our Official Reservations, put on my Official Face & headed downstairs. As I walked into the lobby focusing on my Official Mission, 1 brain cell noticed a little girl who could have been Vivi's sister, staring at the reception desk. I approached Reception with all my Official-ness in place. Suddenly there was a big flash in my face. What was that?! From behind a big camera popped Laurie! And yes, that WAS Vivi... in Paris... They belonged in Munich!! Poor old Grandma. I am SUCH A SUCKER! It's a good thing I love surprises.

Laurie & Vivi had hopped a train from Munich early that morningspent a wonderful day in Paris, then when
they thought we'd be back at the hotel, showed up to see my sister! We had such a nice visit with themin our hotel room for an hour. Then they left us to catch a very late subway back to their Paris hotel with plans to catch a very early train back to Munich the next day. It's so nice to be young & have all that spare energy. We had many laughs over Laurie's caper! It was a fine finale for our adventures in France together.

At the end of 10 days together, I know why Mary is such a dear friend of my sister's. No one could have been more patient with the individual quirks & temperaments of The Coquille Girls or more considerate & helpful. She'd win the Best Traveling Companion Award, if such a thing existed. I'm ready to adopt Mary as a 3rd Coquille Girl, but suspect she's seen enough to decline the offer. Anyway, when we said goodbye to go our separate ways, I was very glad for this visit together & my chance to get to know Mary better.