In some ways it seems like only a minute has passed since we left France. And in some ways it seems like forever. Since landing in the United States, we have visited family in North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan. We went on a cross-country trip that included The Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Montana, Yellowstone, Idaho, Utah, and Lake Tahoe. Since arriving in Sacramento, we have lived in 3 rentals, started new jobs, met many amazing people, bought new bikes, replaced all our household items (and then some), bonded with the neighborhood kitty (we call him Squeaker), and finally…bought a house. Did you have to go back and reread that? I did. That is one heck of a year.
BUT I digress…before we left France, we decided to see a few more sights. We went on a cruise that started in one of our favorite cities, Barcelona, Spain. We took the train down from Toulouse in the morning, saying au revoir to what had become home. The cruise ship was a good re-entry into the United States culture. Just standing in line with all the Americans to get on the ship was like being back. My first impression of my people (how quickly we forget) was that they were big, loud, and sloppy. How could I have become so unfamiliar with people I had spent my whole life with? Well apparently a year away and you start to notice things that used to just be normal. At first I was so sad to think of leaving everything that I loved about France – the food, people, culture, manners. We were giving that up for fast food, baggy pants, and 20-year-olds saying “like” every other word while incessantly posting selfies. But during the cruise, which included meeting some lovely Americans, I realized that although the packaging may be different, there are kind people everywhere speaking every language. And it sure was nice to be able to understand what they say.
The first stop on our goodbye tour was Ajaccio, Corsica. We ate lunch at a quaint little French restaurant, and after being surrounded by English for a while it was actually nice to be back in a language we had once struggled to participate with. We even interpreted for the Americans at the next table, feeling oh so smart. After a hike along the coastline, we headed out to sea and settled in with our shipmates.
Although a convenient way to see many destinations, we decided that cruising is not the style of travel we prefer. LOTS of people eating unbelievable amounts of food, often lounging by the pool while doing so, did make for some good people watching. But the food and entertainment…eh, it was fine. It suited our needs for seeing many destinations before we left with little planning, and we met some fantastic people. So all in all, a success…but there probably won’t be a repeat performance.
Next stop…Naples. Not known for being one of Italy’s gems, it was a good stop for seeing Herculaneum, one of the cities demolished by volcanic flow from Mount Vesuvius. WOW! What an amazing site. Such detail was preserved in the houses like atriums, marble floors, and frescos. We walked along the streets and wandered in and out of what used to be people’s homes until one instant they weren’t. The boat houses contained piles of skeletal remains where people were huddled together trying to get away from the impending devastation. It was both fascinating and eerie.
Next was Messina, Sicily. Here we took the train to Taormina, a town that sits on a hill overlooking the bay. Charming narrow winding streets, lush gardens, colorful laundry hanging out of windows made this adorable town ideal to stroll around. Neal found a restaurant tucked away off of a brick stairway, hiding in a lush courtyard. Fresh calamari plucked out of the sea that morning, and fresh pasta with wine made the visit here perfect. Oh, actually… the gelato following lunch made it perfect.
Valleta, Malta was next on our itinerary. Each destination had its own character, and this Baroque city was certainly unique. It is surrounded by fortified walls overlooking the Mediterranean, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There were grand palaces, gardens, churches, and even a parade (perhaps they knew we were visiting). The buildings were mostly white, made from limestone and often with green accents of balconies or windows.
After our visit to Malta, we dined at our assigned table with our new friends on the ship. One couple was from the United States; another couple was originally from the United States and had just spent the last 2 years in Italy. There was a lovely lady and her 2 daughters from the Netherlands, and a couple from South Africa. Needless to say, our dinners were always lively with interesting conversation and stories. The next morning our ship quietly, slowly floated into a bay off the Adriatic Sea to the small medieval town of Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is surrounded by fortifications built during the Venetian period, with overhanging limestone cliffs. It had a charming old town, with little cafes, shops, and many, many tiny furry residents lounging about. Yes the town was filled with cats. I could not have been happier. They are known for the large number of stray cats that coexist with the human residents. There is even a Cat Museum. Yes really.
The cruise ended in Venice. What I had heard before getting to Venice was that it’s crowded and very touristy. Well we were pleasantly surprised with just how magnificent the city was. Venice is built on more than 100 islands, which lends to a maze of tiny narrow streets and canals. The Gothic architecture, artwork, food, wine, gondoliers (ok, a little touristy but also oh so Venice!), and of course, the water taxis. We thoroughly enjoyed Venice, and found it to be gorgeous, interesting, and delicious. The perfect last stop for our sabbatical.
After 2 days in Venice we took a train through the Alps to Munich, where our plane was scheduled to take us back to the U.S. The journey to Munich was filled with so many mixed feelings – excitement about the next phase of our life; sadness about leaving this one; and for my husband, fear of getting on that damn airplane. We prepared by getting a prescription for Lexomil Roche, which according to my doctor is the French equivalent to Valium. And yes, we did practice beforehand, so I knew exactly how much to give him and when. Suffice to say, the flight back was a quiet and relaxing experience for both of us.
Since this post has run a bit long, I’m going to end here for now. Tune in to the next one for our re-entry, and journey to our new life. Au revoir France, we loved getting to know you, and we will miss you dearly.