eurotour epilogue – random thoughts

All together!

All together!

Wednesday, January 14th in Paris was easily my favorite day of the trip. Notre Dame Cathedral blew away any of the churches or cathedrals we had previously seen. This 375 foot behemoth boasted stained glass windows and large vaulted ceilings that served to bring in the divine light as well as reach up to God. I also had a great experience with the Paris Metro when a cashier gave me a discount for an entire day pass after I explained I was an American student, it was a great way to start the day and put me on track to see all of Paris.

My visit to the Eiffel Tower was somewhat disappointing as the very top was closed due to maintenance but I was able to go to the second level to see some amazing views of the city before rain forced me back down. A short walk to Les Invalides treated me to the Museum de l’Armée and Napoleon’s crypt. The crypt was absolutely incredible with Napoleon’s personal items on display as well as a massive red stone sarcophagus. If Napoleon’s goal was to become another emperor, his crypt alone would definitely qualify him. Next stop would be a record time 15 minute Métro jump to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe located at the end of Les Champs-Elysees. I enjoyed the view from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe much more than the Eiffel Tower because of the 12 avenues running into the Place d’Etoile, the Arc’s central location.

Check out my flickr photostream
(blog admin’s note: excellent photostream!)

~ Feliks

I’ll remember the friendships and camaraderie long after the visions of the cathedrals and museums have faded. We were a diverse group: young and well, not so young, faculty and students, friends and colleagues. But we all bonded along the way on our intense and awe-inspiring journey to see the antiquities, art treasures, and history of Vienna, Salzburg, Venice, Florence, and Paris. What stands out most in my mind as I close my eyes and remember the trip is the floating jewel of Venice appearing before us as we rode the ferry across the straits. The lacy, pinkish marble of the Doge’s Palace appeared before us, and seemed otherworldly, an architectural confection. Experiencing St. Mark’s Cathedral was the dream of a lifetime; to see the treasures brought back from Constantinople by the crusaders was stunning. I couldn’t believe my eyes, “pala d’oro” the golden cloth, at the altar and the bronze horses dating to Greek times were breathtaking. I could practically hear Gabrielli’s antiphonal music resounding from the balconies within the church. Vivaldi’s music still reverberating in my mind after the concert at St. Mark’s Chapel that evening; I brought back the CD of the concert to remember the brilliance of the San Marco Chamber Orchestra and their virtuoso performance.

We spent hours in the Gallerie dell’Academia and feasted our eyes on the Renaissance art of Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini and Veronese before we headed off to the Taverna for a family-style meal in a building that probably dated to the 1600′s. Marco Polo’s house still stands on the Grand Canal – just another neighbor in the ancient city.

The trip was so well organized and planned by our leaders, Helayna, Anna, and Joe. Thank you all for your expertise and guidance through the world of art, architecture, music, and cuisine!

~ Rachel

We had made new friends, had new experiences, new memories. Together we experienced the wonders of the Western World – thousands of years of architecture, art and history. We were exposed to cultures old and new. Experienced the modern life of the current generation along with that of the ancient world. All this made possible by our tour leaders, three individuals who love the arts and want to teach others about the beauty, history, and music that has existed for thousands of years. We seem so small in this expansive – ancient – enduring – historical world of mankind – again, exhausted but satisfied.

Au revoir
Auf wiedersehen
Good Bye

~ Debbie

The trip overall was a success and I thank the tour leaders for everything. I really appreciated all the previous classes and meetings and having your friendly faces with me on this adventure. Thanks.

~ Christina

My favorite moments from the Europe trip include seeing the snowy Alpine peaks by moonlight from my balcony in the hotel at Innsbruck, seeing the opera Elixir of Love at the Vienna State Opera House, experiencing the cavernous interior of the 1000 year old St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice which has its walls completely covered with gold glass mosaics, taking that gondola ride in Venice with many of our participants and sharing the laughter, and finishing the day in Venice at a live performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Concerti.

Paris offered many enjoyments as well but especially that walk through Ste. Chappelle which is probably my favorite place in Paris. I catch my breath every time I walk into that little jewel box of a royal chapel which was built 800 years ago with so much rose colored stained glass and gilded wood. As a co-leader it was very gratifying for me to see all our travelers laughing, learning, and enjoying themselves, and I am already thinking about possibilities for the next trip!

~ Helayna

With the tour of Europe now over, there are a lot of thoughts that come to mind.  One of the first ones occurred to me as I was having a conversation with Lisa, one of Mission College’s associate English instructors who was on the tour.  I told her that I had been wanting to do one of these EF Tours for several years, then a year of preparing for this actual trip…and now it’s over.

I was also thinking about all the miles that we covered, or should I say kilometers, and thought wow…did we really travel all that distance?  But we really did…Vienna, Innsbruck, Verona, Venice, Florence, and Paris.  By bus through the Alps, water taxi to Venice, overnight train to Paris and subway, and walking the many city streets.  Maybe it was a little more than one should really try and do every time but for this time, it was a great experience.  Group travel has its challenges and rewards and for me, my final thought is…where do I want to go next!

~ Joe

Regarding Joe’s comment, I had intended to but then forgot to ask our driver Luigi, the total kilometers he logged. However, based on Google maps, the rough distance we covered overland was 2,313 kilometers or 1437 miles! Incredible.

For me, equally important as the monuments and museums, were the off tour moments: sitting in Harry’s Bar, Ernest Hemingway’s home away from home in Venice, chatting with the Algerians on the overnight train using my awful French, staying up almost all night(!) laughing SO hard with Aaron and Lisa. These are the things I will remember.

Many, many thanks to our hardworking, tireless, and ever cheerful Tour Leaders: Anna, Helayna, and Joe and to our exceptional tour guide Kathi to whom I will not say adieu, but au revoir!

~ Ken

day 10 – bound for home, au revoir Paris!

Au revoir Paris! California here we come!

Au revoir Paris! California here we come!

The final day was filled with mixed emotions.  Unfortunately, I came down with the start of a cold and fever which forced me to turn in early our last night in Paris, but fortunately, I was able to participate in nearly all that was planned there for us.

As we all gathered for our bus ride to the airport, it was hard to believe that the tour was coming to an end. The fact that we had spent over a week together seemed hard to fathom. It all went by so quickly but there were so many memories and experiences that we shared in some of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  Some of these memories we’ll have in pictures to share with friends, some in souvenirs and other items packed in our bags, and others that will be in our minds for years to come.

After arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport a little later than expected due to unexpected traffic, we say our final good bye to Kathi, our fearless tour leader who also is headed back to her own home for time with friends and relaxation.

On the plane, again there is a mix of emotions among the group.  Some are talkative and energetic, moving around the plane, others relaxing quietly in their seats, some completely asleep for the majority of the flight. Most of the conversation is about our experiences, some  missed opportunities, and moments that we enjoyed on the tour. Once we finally arrive in San Francisco, we are thrilled to find our luggage has arrived as well and all went about as smooth as could be expected. I felt not only did we enjoy the sights and learn the history of these great cities in Europe, but we developed many new friendships along the way.

~ Joe

day 9 – Paris

We start our second day in Paris with no hot water in our hotel. Grrrrrr. But no worries mate, don’t sweat the small stuff I say. Back on the Metro and we’re off to Notre Dame Cathedral.

In the forecourt of the Cathedral is a small metal disk embedded in the cobblestones supposedly marking the geographic center of France (it doesn’t actually, but let’s pretend). It’s fun to think that everyone you’ve ever known or met in your life who has come to Paris, and therefore Notre Dame, has probably stood on this very spot.

Inside Sainte Chapelle.

Inside Sainte-Chappelle.

Notre Dame is certainly a can’t miss; however, more impressive to me is the interior of the nearby and more intimate Sainte-Chappelle (loosely, “Holy Chapel”), erected by Louis IX, to house the precious relics purchased from the Turks for an exorbitant sum: the Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. Turns out he was bamboozled, but who knew? At any rate, the walls of Sainte-Chappelle are reported to be 80 percent stained glass and the interior view is ethereal and breathtaking.

After Notre Dame, most of the tour head for the Louvre and then to the Palace of Versailles. Lisa and I part from the tour and walk to  the Musée d’Orsay, which exhibits Impressionist and Post Impressionist art. The d’Orsay is mine, and as it turns out, Lisa’s favorite museum in Paris, with a soaring six story ceiling (it used to be a train station) and airy natural light. Lisa tells me that she’s had a fascination with Van Gogh since childhood and I opine that in a previous life, she might have been an ear.

Lisa and I part ways and I spend the remainder of the afternoon strolling the streets of Paris and people watching. It’s time for dinner and I start looking for a restaurant with local clientele having used the technique with success the evening before. I find a restaurant fitting the bill and order Les Gambas avec Riz et Haricots Verts (prawns with rice and green beans). Wow, dinner come in a sizzling cast iron skillet and the prawns are as big as submarines but tastier. Score!

~ Ken

Les Gambas comme Riz et Haricots Verts.

Les Gambas avec Riz et Haricots Verts.

day 8 – Paris

Under the Eiffel Tower.

Under the Eiffel Tower.

We roll into Paris around 10:00am, board our chartered bus for the nickel tour of Paris (actually quite good), and then check into our hotel for some much needed R&R before taking the Metro into central Paris for some free time. Today is the first of two days in the City of Lights.

The Paris subway, or Metro, is a wonderful thing: extensive coverage, the trains run often (every 5-8 minutes or so), and are on time. What a concept! At each station, there are displays that indicate how many minutes before the next train. €1.60 gets you anywhere on the system. “Merveilleux!” as the French say.

Most of our tour mates take off for a visit to a perfume manufacturer. As for Joe and me, we break away and just follow our noses. I resist going to the Eiffel Tower, but neither Joe nor I have been to the top so we reboard the Metro to the iconic symbol of Paris and Doh! the top observation platform is closed for maintenance. But we can go to the still impressive second highest observation deck. You don’t realize how truly massive the Tour Eiffel, as the French call it, is until you’re standing beneath it. It’s equally impressive to remember that it and all the incredible structures we’ve seen were designed and constructed without computers, laser levels, Excel spreadsheets, modern power tools, and the like.

Night view toward the river Seine from the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower.

Night view toward the river Seine from the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower.

Joe and I leave the Eiffel Tower and look for a place to have dinner. The neighborhood seems somewhat shutdown but we stumble upon an Italian restaurant crowded with locals, always a good sign. We are rewarded with the best meal and service yet.

~ Ken

day 7 – Florence and the overnight train to Paris

Approaching the Duomo.

Approaching the Duomo.

After leaving Venice in the morning, we arrive in Florence around 1:00pm. It’s a major disappointment that this being a Monday, all of the state affiliated, i.e. most, museums are closed – a major miscalculation IMHO. After all, Florence and the Medicis merely kicked off the Italian Renaissance and was home to the likes of Leonardo da Vinci. But, at least we are able to witness, among other things, the Duomo Cathedral (technically that’s redundant), Florence’s dominating landmark and symbol of the interleaved and inseparable religion and power of the era.

The name synonymous with Florence is Medici. The Medicis were the first to expand their power and influence mainly by commerce and not through war and marriage (or is that the same thing?). Their influence is still felt today. College accounting majors study the double-entry bookkeeping system not knowing that the technique was developed and promulgated by the medieval political powers, the Medicis.

We board the night train to Paris: this is not my first time on an overnight train in Europe, but it’s always an adventure. You roll the dice and find out who your compartment mates are. Joe from the tour is one of my mates and the other four are wary Algerians who warm up a bit when I try out my kindergarten French. They live in Paris and have gone to Florence for a day of shopping. Compared to a “normal” night’s sleep at home, my overnight sleep is shaky at best; however, compared to the typical overnight train experience, it’s four star.

~ Ken

day 6 – Venice

Venice vista.

Venice vista.

We have a trip tour guide with us, Kathi, previously mentioned, but for many of our destinations we have a local tour guide and today it’s Carlo. Carlo was born and raised in Venice but now resides outside the city in the nearby mainland region Veneto. Like an ever increasing number of younger people, he has left Venice and as a result of this general exodus, Venice is a dying city propped up only by tourism. Walking through the city gives one the sense that Venice is becoming a giant theme park. Regardless, the extant art and architecture are timeless and stunning.

The crown jewel of Venice,  St. Mark’s square, is bordered by St. Mark’s Cathedral and the seat of government at that time, the Doge’s (Leader’s) Palace where legislation, trials and other legal matters were executed. Connecting the Doge’s Palace and the adjacent prison where sentences and torture were carried out, is the small but infamous flying bridge known as the Bridge of Sighs. A tour of the Doge’s Palace takes you over the Bridge of Sighs and as you walk over the bridge, you try to imagine the thoughts going through the condemned as they left forever, life as they knew it.

Another view of the Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal.

We cap off the evening with dinner and a concert. Most dinners are included in the tour and are satisfactory but unremarkable. On this occasion, we go off routine and select a recommended restaurant and are rewarded by fine local cuisine; then off to the concert. The performance this evening is Vivaldi and we are not disappointed.

~ Ken

day 5 – Innsbruck, Venice via Verona

Having spent the night there, we begin the day in Innsbruck, the capital of the Austrian federal free
state of Tyrol and the site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Unlike our ski resorts located
outside metropolitan areas, the lifts are within city limits and skis strapped to bicycles and folks
in full ski regalia on the streets are not uncommon.

kayak competition against the backdrop of Verona.

The old and new: kayak competition against the backdrop of Verona.

Venice is our destination today but we decide to make an unscheduled stop in Verona, Italy, location of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the third largest ancient Roman arena in Italy. Like the Visigoths, Vandals, and  Huns before us, we cross the Alps and descend into Italy. The Alps seem to explode out of the earth and the Sierra diminish by comparison.

The Roman arena, seating roughly 30,000, is a smaller version of the Coliseum in Rome which is sightly less than double that. The arena at Verona has been in almost continuous use since construction very early in the first century of the Common Era and is today the venue for concerts and dramatic productions. This is my first visit to Verona and I wonder why I’ve waited so long.

We arrive in Venice and check in for the evening…

~ Ken

day 4 – Innsbruck via Salzburg

Liz and Debbie at the market place.

Liz and Debbie at the market place.

Today was more than spectacular, walking in the wonderland that is Salzberg in winter. When Debbie and I walked over the bridge over the Danube leading to the town center, we couldn’t help but hug each other in amazement to be in this spot at this moment. The day came to a beautiful end with the almost full moon shining down above the Alpes. It was a great day to appreciate the beauty of the season.

~ Liz

As we arrived in Salzberg, I was blown away by the beauty of the town. My view from the side of the bus showed blazing white snow but still did not hint how cold it was going to be. As we exited the bus to go on our walking tour, the wind seeped through my clothes and into my bones. I knew it was going to be freezing. As the tour went on it seemed to get colder and colder, but it did not stop me from enjoying learning about the fascinating history of the city.

~ MelRod

Every day is more amazing than the next! Today I was astonished by ripe, mouth-watering fruits in the Salzburg market in -7 degrees C.

~ Anna

day 3 – Vienna

Joe and our tour guide Kati.

Joe and our tour guide Kathi.

Today is our first full (and last) day in Vienna. Paris gets all the press as the cultural capital of Europe but one could make a very strong case for Vienna as an equal or greater. In addition to the titans of classical music, Vienna can claim the likes of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt among many, many others. And of course there are the Hapsburgs who merely shaped the course of a few centuries of European history (and therefore the direction of world events).

Our guide for the duration of the tour is Kathi (pronounced “kah-tee”), a German national from a tiny town in Bavaria, southern Germany. This is her fifth season, i.e. year, as a tour guide and like any good tour guide, Kathi is friendly and approachable as well as erudite. In addition to her native German, she speaks four (!) other languages: English of course, Spanish, French, and Italian and holds advanced degrees in Romance languages and philology from Heidelberg University. Phew!

Two of the high points of our day were Schönbrunn Palace, The Hapsburg’s summer “cottage” with 1500 rooms, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, easily one of the finest and best curated art museums in the world (Helayna Thickpenny is in her element!). As for Schönbrunn Palace, it boggles the mind, for instance, to be standing in the very room Napolean once used as an office.

Tomorrow? Innsbruck via Salzburg!

~ Ken

Inside the dome of the Cathedral of Salzburg.

Inside the dome of the Cathedral of Salzburg.

The opera in Vienna was the highlight of the trip so far. The tenor and soprano had voices
beyond compare. Nemorino’s aria, “Una furtiva lagrima” brought down the house – the audience’s attention during the aria was something I’d never experienced before – everyone was rapt with appreciation of the emotion and flawless beauty of the song. Truly an unforgettable experience.

~ Rachel

day 2 – Vienna

Decorative lights go up for the holidays and remain until Lent.

Decorative lights downtown go up for the holidays and remain until Lent.

After a marathon 20+ hours of travel, we finally deplane in Vienna, land of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Brukner, Mahler, Schoenberg, and espionage intrigue between the CIA, MI-6, and the former Soviet Bloc KGB during the Cold War.

We are nine hours ahead in this time zone; the temperature is a brisk 27 degrees Fahrenheit under a solid overcast with a low of 20 forecast for tonight. The forecast for tomorrow is a high of 26 and a low of 14! Our California blood is thin!

A quick check in at our hotel and then it’s off to dinner…

~ Ken

day 1 – departure!

Waiting in Denver for our connecting flight to Frankfurt.

Waiting in Denver for our connecting flight to Frankfurt.

Here we go!  We are on our way to Austria, Italy and France, but first we have to spend about 15 hours on planes with stops in Denver, Frankfurt, and then on to Vienna.  We arrived at SF airport at 7:30 Tuesday morning, January 6 and will arrive in Vienna on Wednesday afternoon, January 7 (we hope!).   We had a slight glitch at ticketing in SF Airport, but all was resolved and we moved through security almost without a hitch (some of us must have looked suspicious!). The flight to Denver was comfortable and now in Denver Airport we have several hours till our connection on Lufthansa to Frankfurt.  It will be a long long day and night, but we are wearing our smiles!

~ Helayna

Now I am getting excited. It is 1pm Pacific time and after 2 hours 40 minutes of flight from SFO to Denver and I think I am ready for Europe. Four hours of layover at the Denver Airport gave me a great opportunity to socialize with my co-travelers. Had a great chicken strips and salad lunch with Lisa, Aaron, and Mike. Took some pictures. Ready to make some great memories of my first trip to Europe.

~ Shoba