Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paul and the Italian Police

October 21, 2008 Paul and the Italian Police
We left San Gimigniano at 6:15PM just before dusk and decided not to follow the advice of the computerized Auto Route trip planner that suggested we drive north to Florence and then back to our village of Anghiari. Why drive way up there and then all the way south?! That would take almost 2 hours! We could tell by the map that we were exactly west of where we wanted to be and there was a road directly east to Anghiari. Well, after one hour in the dark, just after a rain, on the one lane winding mountain road, with hairpin turns every 50 yds; we knew that we had probably made the wrong decision. We finally made it to the city of Arezzo at 8:30PM - two hours and 15 minutes later and still 30 minutes from our village. We were hungry and tired. Paul was driving and he was exhausted, too. We decided to eat in Arezzo and then finish our drive home. As we drove through the city, everything seemed to be closed; but at the curb of a main road, a police officer standing next to his car waved us over. Uh, oh. Were we speeding?! He asked for Paul’s license. No problem. Then he asked for the car’s registration papers. Problem. We couldn’t find them. Ken looked in the glove compartment. Vicki checked her purse. Paul checked the center console (candy wrappers went flying everywhere). No registration papers. The officer finally told us why we were pulled over. We had the headlights and the fog lights on! No fog lights allowed after 6PM! What kind of a law is that!!??? Well, it’s a 36 Euro law ($50.00). Fortunately, because we didn’t have the registration papers; it was going to make writing a ticket really complicated, so the officer let us go. No fine. Yeah! We all were so nervous and excited about the whole situation that we drove home to eat in Anghiari.
P.S. The registration papers were in Vicki’s purse all along.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Joining a Nudist Colony

October 8, 2008 Joining a Nudist Colony
Joining a Nudist Colony?! No, but going to the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden was probably as close as we’re going to get. People have been going to this bath house since 1877; but, if Mark Twain, Rick Steves and his wife could do it, I guess we could, too. I was a little hesitant, but when we saw the building itself, I knew this would be a class act. The outside of the building looks like a palace. There are 17 steps to the bath experience. We were told that steps 7 through 11 would be coed nudity. Uh, OK, I guess. Anyway, once you enter you just follow the numbers on the rooms to each stage of the experience. They kind of lull you into the whole thing by placing a large sheet in the locker where you undress. A lot of good that does! You wrap up, walk down the short hall to find out Step One is a shower in a large room with 6 large rainshower heads and wall jets. The attendant takes the sheet and that’s the last time you’ll be seeing one of those for a while. After several dry saunas of varying degrees of warmth and another shower, you get a soap and brush massage that is wonderful. Then off to the steam room. By this time, I was almost not even noticing all of the nude women walking around. It was all too relaxing to worry about it. The next step was the tepid whirlpool. Ahh, that would feel great; but when I push the door to enter, I thought, "What stage begins the coed thing?" Whoops, too late. I was there. Well, I just got in like everyone else with only my head sticking out of the water and was totally relaxed. I was actually congratulating myself for being so cosmopolitan and blending right in, but then this pear shaped woman got into the pool and instead of sitting down immediately like everyone else, she bent over to touch the bottom before sitting. Yikes! I didn’t need to see that! I tried to look up at the beautiful ceiling with the stained glass and Roman columns, but it didn’t help. I started to smile and then kept biting my lip to keep from giggling. At which point, Paul finally showed up. Thank goodness. We stayed in the two main pools for about 20 minutes and then parted to continue the last half of the bath. The whirlpools were followed by a tepid shower and then an ice bath. Wow, that will wake you up. As soon as I got out, an attendant was there with a warm sheet to wrap in. That was great. Then the moisturizing cream application and into the relaxation room. That was fabulous! I walked into a large dimly lit round room with beautiful moldings on the walls and ceiling. Several women were wrapped like sarcophagi on a circle of tables. The attendant wrapped me in a crisp warm sheet and then pulled up the blanket to wrap me like one more mummy. I immediately fell asleep. After about 20 minutes I woke up and went to the last room, the reading room, where they had a variety of magazines in several languages and cool water to drink. I think I’m ready to buy the season pass.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Festivals and More

October 6, 2008 Festivals and More
We still can’t get over the diversity of festivals here. On Saturday we went to a Grape Harvest festival in the morning and a Flower festival in the afternoon. On Sunday it was the Wild Boar festival followed by a Sauerkraut festival. Each one is hosted by a different town and they are all different. Some are really small. Last week we went to a New Wine festival in Mittelbergheim. We should have known when we drove into town and easily found a parking space that it wouldn’t be much. We walked into the town hall where it was held and there we were with about 8 locals, all sitting at tables drinking the new wine (which tastes like a grape cider) and cracking English walnuts with mallets. Now that’s a festival!
Our favorite festivals have all had German oom pah pah bands. It’s so funny to hear them sing all of the songs in German and then thank the crowd with “Merci!” The dancing is entertaining, too. They play a polka and everyone polkas. They play a waltz and everyone polkas. They played a rumba and it was hilarious. All of the couples started to dance a polka to a Latin beat, but it just wasn’t working. You can only imagine what happened with the Tango music!
We loved the decorations at the Sauerkraut festival in Riedwihr. Cabbages were hanging from the chandelier and all around the inside of the giant tent. Outside a huge wagon of green and purple cabbages waited to be tossed into a grinder that pushed them up a conveyor belt and into a vat where a couple of workers scooped up (with their hands, no plastic gloves here!) the shredded cabbage and dumped it in plastic bags. The bags were weighed at 5 kilos (12 lbs.) and sold to the lines of people waiting for them. Other tents were pressing apples and sharing free samples of the juice. It was really cool to get “free” samples and not feel like you should buy something from them. There was no juice for sale!
We didn’t know what to expect at the Wild Boar festival in Ebersheim. Basically it was just like a Lutheran Church sausage supper with a different menu and live music. After buying a ticket, we were shown to a seat at a long table next to other people (none of whom spoke English). The meal was brought out in courses and the German band played and people danced the entire time. The wild boar was delicious and tasted like a lean roast beef (not tough or wild tasting at all).
Too bad we’re leaving France this week. Next weekend is the Pumpkin festival, the Chestnut festival and an Accordion evening. I guess we’ll just have to come back next year.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Adjusting

October 2, 2008 Adjusting
Now that we’ve been here for 22 days, we are starting to adjust our lives to reduce frustration and save money. It’s really hard to get past the fact that the stores and offices are going to close at noon (but many times at 11:45 AM, even if the door says noon) and don’t reopen until around 4:00PM. This has always been true in Spain, but when did the French start having a “siesta”?! Yesterday, I put my debt card into the machine to take out cash at 11:54 AM and the machine kept it! Suddenly, the screen said, “Windows is shutting down.” And that was that. Even though there were people working in the bank at the time, I had to wait until 1:30 for the bank to reopen to get my card; they were all going to lunch! Also, caf├ęs and restaurants are done serving at 2:00. Don’t even think about eating between 2:00-6:00. Not gunna happen, unless you want pastries, which are available on every corner – much to my dismay. I am still eating my way through France in search of a bad pastry.
Saving money? That’s a joke. We have only been under our budget of $200.00 /day for eight of the 22 days – in part because there are such cool things to buy – an antique wooden tap for a wine keg, all kinds of interesting wine serving gadgets, an iron door bell with beautiful iron work - how to get that home? (We just found out that Lufthansa will only allow 44 pounds per bag! Will my wonderful sister, Carma, who’s coming next week, help out? News to come. . .), but best of all an entire 14 piece place setting of Guy Degrenne china. That’s its own story. The french stores won’t send it to the USA, so we got online and found out it’s not sold in the US, but it’s available in Canada. Twenty e-mails later (no exaggeration!), a really nice guy, Jeff Gilman, in Montreal is pulling together the whole order and will send it to Arkansas for us. Someday we will be serving all of you on a beautiful plate decorated with olive branches and olive trees and it will have all been worth it.