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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” ~ Woody Allen

Some people are planners, and some are not. Skip and I claim that we can be “spontaneous” but that is probably not a true statement. Most of our life is carefully planned out, and our vacations are certainly planned. I don’t understand when people don’t make a plan, and then complain that they did not get to do what they would have liked to do.

Several months before any Disney trip, our children know in advance that they will be asked what restaurant they want to eat at for Dinner. The park opening times impact our day’s activities. Our three children knew that if they rode in the car with Skip, even at five years old, they would be asked to outline their five-year plan.

Covid-19 had thrown a monkey wrench into planning. We are all happy to be alive and well, but from a strange perspective, planners could not plan. We had two bigger vacations planned and with a lot of money and time invested in them that were rescheduled a few times with the pandemic and they both ended up being scheduled concurrently for April/May of this year. If you have been following my blog, then you know we had a lovely week and a half on a river cruise on tulip time in Amsterdam, followed by a few days in Italy highlighted by Venice and Lake Como.

Finally, we were off to Greece for our ten-day Viking Ocean cruise, or so we thought. We landed in Athens and made it to our hotel which has a view of the Acropolis.

Then we walked to our appointments for mandatory pre-cruise testing. We had all been vaccinated, received multiple boosters, had worn masks, and adhered to handwashing and sanitizing. Long story short, this was my result. “No!” I said to the lab tech or whatever she was. “No, no, and no.” And so we paid for two more retests – same results. Gary, Tom, Barbara, and Skip tested negative and Peggy tested positive.

The stops on the Viking Ocean Cruise of Greece we were not going to see!

Skip spent the next several hours on the phone canceling the cruise for the four of us and searching for a place to stay while we waited until we were able to travel back home as the US rules even for vaccinated and boosted US citizens required a negative test 24 hours prior to boarding a flight. Barbara and Tom went on the cruise while the four of us tried to make a new plan.

After a sleepless night in the New Hotel in Athens which was centrally located but incredibly noisy, we headed to Dolce Athens Attica Riviera, which boasted that it was only twenty minutes from the airport and a hidden seaside gem.

The hotel was lovely, and the staff was courteous and helpful. It was quiet, and the landscape was beautiful, but it was not our cruise and we lived in fear of Skip and Gary testing positive which would reset the clocks for our return to the USA. If going to this resort had been our plan, it would have been fine, but it was not.

Despite feeling well, I was overwhelmed. My mind went seemingly 24/7 and jet lag and sleeplessness added to my anxiety.

“Some things are so unexpected that no one is prepared for them.” ~ Leo Rosten

I tried to push down the constant worry with questions such as “what would you be doing if you were on your cruise right now?” And I answered myself ( which is strange to be talking to myself) “I’d be taking photos, eating, drinking, and enjoying being with my friends while staying safe.”

There were dozens of cats wandering around and we assigned them names from the play Cats!

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”~Terry Pratchett

We hung out together, we did not go into town or interact with anyone except the front desk staff, the online doctors to help clear us to fly, the restaurant and bar staff, and many hours spent on chat or phone hold with Delta Airlines agents attempting to change our flights. Our end goal was always the same, win the world series, arrive home safely!

We made it home safe and sound after my documentation of recovery from COVID certificate was double-checked at the airport security. The flights were long and sleepless but we and our luggage made it. Jet lag and a positive COVID test (asymptomatic) lasted a few more days. Our dog Frankie survived pancreatitis and dehydration and hospitalization while we were away. I’d say it was a lot to process and somedays I am not back to “normal” but I am trying to regain my sense of humor.

Not surprisingly, our calendars are full and we currently have trips in the fall and then spring and summer of 2023! Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best.

“Always remember: if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

“Always remember, nothing is as bad as it seems.”

~Helen Fielding

“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering firsthand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.” ~ Debra Levinson

On Monday, May 2nd we traveled on a day trip to Lake Maggiore, or as it is also known, Lago Maggiore, which sounds much more romantic! It was a lovely drive only about an hour or so from Lake Como, up hilly roads and down switchback roads just a short distance to Switzerland. It is the second-largest lake in Italy and the largest in southern Switzerland.

We took a ferry boat to one of the larger islands on the lake to spend a couple of hours just wandering, the weather was perfect and except for the cobblestone paths, we had a lovely and relaxing time.

It was a tad “touristy” in the feel of the island with shops and merchants greeting you. But there was also a beauty in the peacefulness of the surroundings, so much that we missed our ferry back to the mainland, and because we are such a spontaneous group we took a different ferry to our next destination on the mainland.

We found a pharmacy to buy some supplies and had a wonderful outdoor lunch before our travels back to our last night in Lake Como. Small planes were practicing taking off and landing on the lake which was somehow mesmerizing to watch.

“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” ~ George Miller

It is hard to choose the “best day so far” of the trip, as all of the days had something special about them. Tomorrow we head to Greece for our 10-day Viking Ocean cruise, which has its own dedicated excel spreadsheet thanks to Skip and Peggy!

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” ~Anna Akhmatova

“Lake Como,” she said the little name to herself lingeringly. He had described a marble palace amongst cypress trees, had made her feel that she was there with him listening to the lap of the water, the singing of a nightingale, the love serenade of a boatman on the lake.” ~Anya Seton, Dragonwyck

Today we woke to the incredible view of Lake Como from our balcony, and as an extra treat a hot air balloon was slowly making its way across the landscape.

We ate breakfast and waited at the hotel private dock with this view for our private boat to arrive to take us around Lake Como.

The view was incredible, the weather forecast was wrong and the sun shone on our day. We passed small and large homes that dotted the landscape. Each view was picture-perfect.

“The creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.” ~Mark Twain

The magical beauty of the day continued while our driver Michele stopped at Villa del Balbianello. If that name is not romantic enough on its own. The villa began as a Franciscian monestary and passed hands during the centuries, when the owner died in 1974 he left the villa and a large endowment to pay for its the National Trust of Italy. It is one of the most visited sites in Italy, and was used during the filming of one of the Star Wars movies and the new Casino Royale movie.

Romance was in the air/

We stopped briefly at the town of Bellagio to shop and walk the steep cobbled steps to the shop. Then we dined at a terrace in the sun overlooking Lake Como, where we learned a little about Gary and Peggy’s name, Persico, from the menu.

“In America, one must be something, but in Italy, one can simply be.” – Pietros Maneos

“How beautiful is sunset, when the glow of Heaven descends upon a land like thee.” ~ P. B. Shelley

For I will raise her statue in pure gold; That while Verona by that name is known, There shall no figure at such rate be set as that of true and faithful Juliet ~ William Shakespeare

Today we left our idyllic out-of-the-way hotel in Venice and traveled to Verona. We did not meet Shakespeare’s two gentlemen from Verona but enjoyed our time with our travel group.

Verona is a city on the Adige River in Veneto, Italy. It is one of the seven provincial capitals of the region. It is the largest city municipality in the region and the second-largest in northeast Italy. Since every day seems to be a holiday in Italy the city center was crowded. There were high-end stores of every kind mixed together with gelaterias and souvenir shops.

There was a market in the middle of the square selling everything from food and drink to any clothing you could want.

We wandered the city square admiring the architecture and attempted to get near Juliet’s house, even though Romeo and Juliet were fictional characters, when you stand underneath the balcony and picture William Shakespeare’s love scene, you can almost feel their presence. It was crowded with long lines so we opted to sit and have a cappuccino instead while we watched the people and dogs rush by.

The drive to our next destination was long, we stopped briefly at a winery for a tasting and made it to our next stopping point Lake Como, which looked breathtaking.

“Life was meant to great adventure and close friends.” ~ Anonymous

“He liked the fact that Venice had no cars. It made the city human. The streets were like veins, he thought and the people were the blood, circulating everywhere” ~Patricia Highsmith

Today after a delicious breakfast and a good night’s sleep we met our guide and took a water taxi to Murano. It’s probably the most famous island of the Venetian Lagoon, it’s composed of seven minor islands. It is well known worldwide for the art of blowing glass. All glass factories were moved to the island of Murano in 1295 to preserve the city from fires that often were caused by factories themselves. We had a private tour of one of the glassblowing factories.

The teamwork and precision to create each item take years of practice, and each item is one of a kind. If I were Cia, the singer, I do not think I would want to swing from the amazing chandeliers!

After a leisurely wander through the shops where photography was forbidden, we took another taxi ride to the island of Burano which is also located in the Venice lagoon. Burano is also known for its small, brightly painted houses, which are popular with artists. The colors of the houses follow a specific system, originating from the golden age of its development. If someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colors permitted for that lot. It is said that sailors coming home often drunk, might mistake their homes from being away for so long so they were painted bright colors so they would not forget.

Another highlight of Burano is its lacemaking. The first laces date back to 1500 and initially, their workmanship took place in posh houses, employing needle-and-thread without a canvass as a prop. Here the “punto in aria” combined with geometrical designs, flowers, animals, and spirals took place. It takes seven lacemakers, specializing in one stitch each to create the intricate lace patterns.

Today was one of the more relaxing days so far in our travels. We had a lovely sunshine-filled day beginning with cappuccino and tea, an afternoon treat with gelato, a spontaneous Italian meal, and some after-dinner drinks in the courtyard. Life is good.

“Sharing adventures means enjoying them 100% more.” ~ Unknown

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” ~Truman Capote

Today we said farewell to some of our friends in our travel group. left Amsterdam and flew to Venice. The view from the plane was incredible.

We soon retrieved our luggage and found our driver who delivered us to the last drop-off spot outside of the city of Venice to walk to our hotel. Although google maps said it was a 15-minute walk it did not account for carrying our bags over uneven walkways and up many steps over the canals. Nonetheless, we made it and settled in, found a lovely spot for lunch, unpacked, and found our tour guide for a 3-hour walking/canal taxi tour.

 “ To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius .” ~Alexander Herzen

We walked through a tangled maze of streets to huge piazzas, which are public squares or marketplaces meant as gathering places.

We crossed bridge after bridge after bridge. The water taxi provided a different view of the city.

“I loved her from my boyhood,—she to me
Was as a fairy city of the heart,
Rising like water columns from the sea,
Of joy the sojourn and of wealth the mart;
And Otway, Radcliffe, Schiller, Shakespeare’s art,
Had stamped her image in me, and even so,
Although I found her thus, we did not part,
Perchance even dearer in her day of woe
Than when she was a boast, a marvel, and a show”

~Lord Byron, Venice

“Tulips were a tray of jewels.”~E.M. Forster, Howards End

Today, our last day together on the Amamora river cruise, we traveled to Keukenhof Gardens, which is the largest flower park in the world. Today was also the celebration of Kingsday! Since the title for this cruise was tulip time, we have traveled to Hoorn, to a tulip farm to be educated on the propagation of tulip bulbs, to Antwerp for the Floralia Flower Show and today was indeed the piece de resistance at Keukenhof in Amsterdam!

Keukenhof Park covers an area of 79 acres and approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted in the gardens annually.  Keukenhof is widely known for its tulips, it also features numerous other flowers, including hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, roses, carnations, and irises. It was a lovely day and we wandered the gardens for a couple of hours stopping to take photos of what seemed like every other minute!

“I wonder about tulips…how they somehow find a way
To grace us with their beauty before they slowly fade away.

If only people were more like tulips and could somehow find a way
To grace this world with beauty before they slowly fade away.”

I Wonder About Tulips ~ Jim Yerman

There were also some unusual statues and artwork, food and drinks, and of course shops! You could order tulip bulbs to be shipped to your home, it’s really too bad that the deer love tulips (for a different reason) as much as I do.

“Tiny Tim would probably tiptoe through the tulips.
He and his sweetie would lay there and drink mint juleps.
They would enjoy the beautiful sunshine.
And he softly kissing his lady so fine.
And softly stroking her hair of blond.
Enjoying the colorful pretty tulips and having so much fun.”

Colorful Tulips ~ by Lamar Cole

“The most beautiful things in life are not things. They’re people and places, memories, and pictures. They’re feelings and moments, and smiles and laughter.” ~ Unknown

“If everybody comes from somewhere else, nobody is a stranger.” ~Rien Vroegindeweij

We began our morning in Rotterdam. It was a rather chilly morning but the sun was shining and we did a walking tour of the city. Our guide told us that on May 14, 1940, almost the entire city center was wiped out by German bombs in an attack that lasted barely fifteen minutes. The bombs took 900 lives and 85,000 homes leaving it a city without a heart.

Architects designed buildings to help rebuild the city. The Blaaktoren is a residential tower by architect Piet Blom. Also popular as the Potlood (Pencil) building in Rotterdam because of the pointy top.

There were other interesting architectural buildings, such as one with the curve of the windows on the bottom, so that people would not put nicknacks and photographs in them, although people put wooden shelving in the windows despite that.

Probably no other building was as strange as the famous Cube Houses which connect the Oude Haven (Old Harbor) and the Blaak areas in Rotterdam. The 51 iconic Cubic Houses (kubushuizen) in Rotterdam are by architect Piet Blom. With 38 actual Cubic Houses between 13 Company Cubes. The space inside is slanted walls and open windows where occasionally something will fall from the window onto the streets below. Because they look a little like trees, and the architect was Blaak, they are sometimes called the Blaak Forest. With narrow staircases and an unusual design they are difficult to live in.

There was a shipyard for reconstructing ships, and an unusual building that had a giant pass through which was decorated with a “mural” and on the ground level had many shops.

We enjoyed a cheese tasting at one of the shops.

Of course, as always you must keep a watchful eye out for the bicycles and motor-bikes. We enjoyed the unusual sinking cathedral and strange art.

After a light lunch we headed to the Kinderdijk Unesco Windmills. Nineteen beautiful windmills remain which were built around 1740 as a part of a water managment system to prevent flooding. In 1997 they were declared to be UNESCO World Heritage. We were blessed by sunshine but cool weather but again a lovely afternoon.

                            The Windmill by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

        "Behold! a giant am I!
        Aloft here in my tower,
        With my granite jaws I devour
       The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
        And grind them into flour.

    I look down over the farms;
        In the fields of grain I see
        The harvest that is to be,
    And I fling to the air my arms,
        For I know it is all for me.

    I hear the sound of flails
        Far off, from the threshing-floors
        In barns, with their open doors,
    And the wind, the wind in my sails,
        Louder and louder roars.

    I stand here in my place,
        With my foot on the rock below,
        And whichever way it may blow
    I meet it face to face,
        As a brave man meets his foe.

    And while we wrestle and strive
        My master, the miller, stands
        And feeds me with his hands;
    For he knows who makes him thrive,
        Who makes him lord of lands.

    On Sundays I take my rest;
        Church-going bells begin
        Their low, melodious din;
    I cross my arms on my breast,
        And all is peace within."

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”~ Charles M. Schulz

Today we started our day in the city of Ghent. Some of our fellow travelers did a walking tour of Ghent, some chose to do an all-day bus and walking tour of Ghent and Bruges and some chose to do an educational workshop on the making of Belgian chocolate. Because we are most interested in furthering our education, we chose the making of chocolate. I know shocker!

Our morning was spent at the wonderful Chocolates Van Hecke, which seemed more home-like than a factory. They are fourth-generation chocolatiers. Chocolaterie Van Hecke was founded in 1928 in the Koestraat in Ghent.The family has been making artisanal and high-quality chocolate creations for 4 generations. Stephen, as the 4th generation, has provided the necessary innovation in the field of pralines and patisserie.

The family works as a seamless team, Stephen and his father and mother moved with ease around the small workshop giving everyone a chance to see and try for themselves how to make chocolates. He began with a brief educational video and explanation of the sourcing of chocolate, the different kinds of chocolate, and demonstrated how to make a chocolate mold for a filled candy, and then we each got a chance to try it for ourselves.

“Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” ~ Jo Brand

I need would like this machine in my home!

We were all adept at making the chocolate molds after he gave a demonstration.

After Stephen showed us how to make the chocolates, his father showed us how to fill the chocolates, and then we tasted the chocolates. Then, of course, we bought some chocolates which tasted as good as they looked!

I think I need to join this group.

“The 12-step chocolate program: NEVER BE MORE THAN 12 STEPS AWAY FROM CHOCOLATE!”
~ Terry Moore

“Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream
The candy man, Willy Wonka can, the candy man can
The candy man can ’cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good

And the world tastes good’
Cause the candy man thinks it should”

~Roald Dahl Candy Man

“Tiptoe through the window, By the window, that is where I’ll be. Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.” ~ Tiny Tim

We began the day with a walking tour of Antwerp. Antwerp is one of the world’s most important seaports and also the top diamond center in Europe. Interestingly enough, all of the shops were closed when we toured so no diamonds were purchased. The city was lovely with a mix of old and new, with cobblestone streets leading to the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady.

It was again a lovely morning with the sun shining despite cool weather. There were a few unusual things to see, but of course, everything is better when seen with friends.

In the afternoon we took a bus ride to the Floralia Flower show at the Kasteel von Groot-Bijgaarden. Our arrival began with a parade of sorts of finely dressed and masked people who posed and wandered about the amazing tulip gardens.

“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” ~Walter Hagen

There were endless patches of tulips and some other flowers, The day was picture perfect with endless photo opportunities that did not disappoint.

“From little seeds, great flowers grow.” ~Jessie Burton

“Life was meant to great adventure and close friends.” ~Anonymous