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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Munich Olympic Park

Tracy and I each had one objective for coming to Germany. Tracy wanted to find the place where she was born - the American army hospital in Augsburg. And I wanted to go back to the site of the 1972 Olympic Games that I visited with Inge.

Our hunt for Tracy's hospital was fairly comical. The American army pulled out of Augsburg in 1959 and the base has been mostly converted to other uses - rather like the old Stapleton airport or Lowry air force base in Denver. However, we knew the general location of the old base, and even saw some of the old barracks. They are unmistakable. We figured that something useful like a hospital building might still be standing - and might even still be in use. We found a German hospital in the neighborhood and wandered in. I spotted an older doctor and asked about the American hospital. He remembered it, but said that it was no longer in use as a medical facility. It had been converted to an apartment building. We drove around looking for it, and taking pictures of likely suspects, but were never sure if we found the right building. Oh well.

Then on to Munich to look for the Olympic Park.

I brought along a photo taken in Munich during that trip with Inge, and wanted to see if I could find the exact location and reproduce the photo. (Yes, I did have long hair once upon a time . . .)

We missed a turn somewhere along the way and ended up in downtown Munich. Not an easy place to park! However, we enjoyed the Marienplatz and ended up staying for the 5 pm ringing of the Glockenspiel.

Afterwards, we found the Olympic Park and drove around racing the sunset to try to find the exact location of the photo. No, this isn't the right angle.

Maybe over there? From up on that hill?

No, that's not it either. We circled around and around taking photos, and finally gave up. It was getting dark. Just as we got on the highway to leave town, we spotted an overpass. Maybe that's where we were! We got off the highway again and found a parking complex that was eerily familiar. I jumped out to check out the camera angles while Tracy waited in the car. This is close, but still not exactly right. Oh well.

I snagged a stranger to take one last picture before dark.

Darkness fell and Tracy and I drove back to Augsburg, thoughts and memories swirling. Tracy recalled her first six years spent in Germany, German words and indistinct images surfacing from the depths of her childhood memories. And I thought of Inge and Munich and the Olympics and our three month road trip in a vintage grey Volkswagen beetle.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Driving from Munich to Lucca - and back

I'm out of practice. I rarely drive in Europe. Buses, subways, and trains are cheap and convenient, whereas a car is sometimes more of a liability than an asset. Gas is expensive, parking is a hassle, the rules of the road are sometimes different (priority on the right), and other drivers are aggressive and undisciplined. That said, there are some places that you just can't get to without driving. And having a friend to share the expense and the adventure makes it more fun. I was looking forward to my road trip in Germany and Italy with Tracy. It brought back memories of an epic road trip that I took with my friend Inge back in 1972.

I was excited about our rental car, but, truth be known, just a little apprehensive about driving. It was reminiscent of my apprehensiveness in Ravenna getting back on a bicycle after a long absence. The reflexes come back, don't they?

I drove the first day and quickly overcame my nervousness. The car was fun to drive! Tracy was tired from an overnight flight where she didn't get much sleep, but the next morning she was ready to take over the wheel.

"Can you really drive as fast as you want on the German autobahn?" Tracy asked. Yes, the suggested speed limit is 130 km/h (~80 mph) but cars were passing us going much faster. I was a little nervous the first night she drove on the autobahn. It was her first time behind the wheel of this car, and 130 km/h seemed plenty fast to me after dark.

Later in the trip, Tracy admitted to nosing up to 150 km/h when I wasn't paying attention. She clearly could have gone much faster - after all, the speedometer of our sporty convertible went up to 250 km/h. It was obvious that Tracy enjoyed driving more than I did, and after the first day I turned over the keys and picked up the maps as navigator. I also explained the international signs and rules of the road when driving in Europe. "Aaack! Stop!! No, no, no! You can't make a right turn on red!"

"Oh really?" Tracy calmly responded. "One 'No' is enough."

We developed a wonderful rapport with her driving and me riding shotgun. I tried to refrain from too much backseat driving.

Tracy was awesome - not just on the autobahn going flat out; she also managed to navigate the narrow pedestrian alleys in Lucca. "What?! You drove the car all the way to the hotel?" Dee was incredulous. "You're not supposed to drive inside the walls of Lucca."

We just shrugged. We called the hotel the day we arrived in the rain and Paolo gave us driving directions to the front door. We made many wrong turns and circled around several times before finally finding the Piccolo Hotel Puccini. The streets are so narrow that pedestrians have to press against the wall as you pass. Bikes calmly moved out of the way, and no one, police included, seemed to be the slightest bit annoyed. Apparently, there's nothing illegal about driving in the pedestrian areas. Imagine doing that on the Pearl St. Mall!

However, there isn't any parking inside the walls, and Paolo directed us to a parking lot outside the walls - where the car sat for the remainder of our Lucca visit.

Now it was time to return the car to Munich - by myself. Tracy was returning to the U.S. from Pisa and I didn't really relish the idea of driving all the way back to Munich. But the cost of renting the car in Germany and then dropping it off in Italy would have doubled the already extravagant expense.

The weather was beautiful the day I left Lucca. Top up or top down? Why did I hesitate? My practical, conservative nature perhaps? Maybe I'm not a frivolous, convertible type? Krreeeeek - the envelope stretches a bit. Well, why not?? I get out the map and examine the routes to my destination. Munich is ~700 kms north as the crow flies. I can either take the autostrada (high speed tollway) east to Florence and then through Bologna, or take the scenic route straight north to Modena - through the Garfagnana. I've heard that the Garfagnana is pretty - maybe I'll go that way.

My map is not very detailed and I worry about getting lost. At one point, I reach a Y in the road and both arms have signs pointing to Modena. Which one to choose? I pick the one on the left. Does it seem just a little bit wider than the one on the right? Mind you, both branches are narrow country roads. There is no other traffic, and no one to ask. It is a gorgeous day. I should be enjoying this drive. Why is my stomach in a knot? My mouth is dry and my fingers are clutching the steering wheel. Why am I so nervous? Well, 65 miles worth of hairpin curves might have something to do with it. I've gained over 4000 feet in altitude, and I haven't seen any other traffic. It's slow, and I have a long way to drive today. Is this even the right route??

I stop along the way to calm my nerves and take a few pictures to remind myself how beautiful it is up here. I wish I could relax and enjoy it.

I finally arrive at the summit of the Passo delle Radici. What a relief. I get out, stretch my legs and buy some water. The Garfagnana is known for its porcinis and they sell permits to collect them here.

The only thing I like better than eating mushrooms is hunting for them. Too bad I don't have time. I need to be in Munich by 9 am the following day and I've only covered 65 of the 700 kms to get there. It's noon, and there are mushrooms on the menu. I'm in a hurry! But I'm talked into a quick snack of fried porcinis before putting the top up and getting serious about the road ahead.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shopping with Tracy

The longer I'm away the more I am aware of the subtle shifts in my comfort zone. I can almost hear the squeaky, stretching noises as the seams of the envelope of my previous life start to come apart - sometimes with a gentle nudge from others.

Tracy and I were in Augsburg, window shopping. It was cold and I needed a new jacket. "No, not a fleece!" warned Tracy when she saw me heading towards a sporting goods shop. "Fleece is for Boulder. You live in Paris now. Let's find you something more appropriate, more stylish!"

A few minutes later a shop window caught our attention. Ah, this shows promise. Let's go in here. Half an hour later, and with a nudge from Tracy, I've found a jacket that I like.

Monday, September 27, 2010


"SDF" stands for "Sans Domicile Fixe" in French. That is the polite way (and the official way) of referring to a homeless person - a person without a fixed domicile. I moved again today. I could be called an SDF. It's a bit of a joke among my friends. No, I am not sleeping in a cardboard box under a bridge, I am currently staying in a very nice apartment in one of Paris' nicer districts. Again, friends have come to the rescue by lending me an apartment until I can move into my very own place on Friday, October 1st.

I must say I'm getting very good at living out of a suitcase. And a small one at that. But I will be very happy to finally gather my stuff in one place and unpack. I probably won't be completely settled until after my son Eric's visit next week - I am planning to lend him my new apartment. But at least I will have a place to call my own for awhile.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kathleen Dunne

Another amazing woman that we visited during our trip to Lucca was Kathleen Dunne, a California artist who came to Lucca to paint at the age of 69 in 2002 and never went back. Dee met Kathleen in 2004 when both were studying Italian in the Koinè language school in Lucca. Kathleen had previously worked as an art director for an advertising agency as well as a freelance illustrator. Oil painting is her real passion and she now lives in a 600 year old farmhouse in the hills above Lucca where she paints full time.

We met her for lunch, a tour of her home and studio, and a walk in the Tuscan hills. The roads were very steep and narrow. Our driver dropped us off to walk the last 100 yards up the hill.

Kathleen patiently answered Tracy's questions on the technical aspects of using oils.

Here is Kathleen showing us some of her paintings under the watchful eye of the Bouvier who accompanied her from California.

What a beautiful place for lunch!

To learn more about Kathleen, click here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chartres Festival of Light

I'm back in Paris and staying in Passage d'Enfer again. I solved the plumbing problem by finding a plumber just down the street who was able to come over and unplug the drains. Whew. Now maybe I can get caught up on my blog posts. I have many more stories and photos for you. After all, I never finished telling you about my trip to Italy and Germany.

Just to conclude the Chartres weekend, here are a couple more pics. I was intrigued when I happened upon this scene - people seemed to be playing in the snow:

I went back to the same place the following morning:

And the next evening before people started "playing" again.

The party is over. Time to clean up for the last time.

The grand finale of the light show was Saturday night. The live entertainment consisted of more aerial dancers suspended from a giant crane over the town square. Not quite as dramatic as dancing on the cathedral face, but captivating nonetheless.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chartres Fête de la Lumière

I returned to Paris from Italy to find that my normal interim hangout at Passage d'Enfer is not really habitable right now due to a plumbing problem. What to do? Where to stay for a couple of weeks until I can move into my new apartment on October 1st? I don't have a solution yet, but my first impulse was to take a short trip to the countryside. It was Friday, and I knew the Chartres labyrinth is only open on Fridays. Why not go back there for the weekend?

I didn't realize that this was one of the busiest weekends of the year, the grand finale of the Festival of Light, and most places in town had been booked months in advance. I lucked out, however, and managed to find a place to stay.

I've taken pictures of the cathedral before, but it never occurred to me to take a ferris wheel ride

to get an even better vantage point:

Here's the south facade of the cathedral during the day. Remember this image - you'll see it again later.

After darkness fell, I wandered through town taking photos of some of the 28 illuminated sites. Imagine my surprise when this nondescript building:

was transformed into this after dark:

or the mediatheque (public library) which looks like this during the day:

was repainted in several different motifs, all accompanied by music:

Later, I heard applause coming from near the cathedral. I saw a spotlight illuminating the rose window in the south facade:

It wasn't until I drew nearer that I could discern an ethereal aerial dancer walking up the face of the rose window and then plunging into space as she wove a web of magic in the spotlight.

It took my breath away.

And that was just Friday. There were different events on Saturday night, but the image of the celestial dancer on the cathedral was the most stunning of all.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lucca group

Here are my traveling companions for our fabulous Lucca excursion. We are near the marble quarries above Colonnata and Pietrasanta.

Anne, Magdalene, Margie, Elaine, Dee, Tracy

At our farewell dinner:

Visit with Inger Sannes

We meet Dee's friend Inger in the town of Pietrasanta where Inger has her studio. We start with lunch, sitting outdoors at the tiny Trattoria Filippo. We don't chose from a menu, we've entrusted Filippo with all decisions regarding food and wine.

Inger begins telling the story of how she came to be here - how she left a career in Stockholm as a management consultant at IBM and followed her heart and hands as her intuition guided her to a career sculpting in marble in Italy. She moved here nine years ago - at the age of 49 - with the unconditional support of her pediatrician husband and her three grown children.

Following a delicious lunch, Inger takes us to the studio where she shares facilities with several other sculptors. Along the way she has described the learning process that she has undergone, and shows us plaster models of earlier work.

Later, she dons protective gear as she demonstrates the process as she continues the work on a current project:

The work is extremely demanding physically, working in the heat, holding the heavy, noisy drill bit, marble shards flying. Inger tells us that she didn't want to wait for retirement to pursue sculpting as a "hobby" - she wouldn't have the physical strength required.

We leave Inger to her work, completely in awe of her commitment and her success. You can learn more about her work here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


My visit to Lucca with five friends from my writing group in Boulder is partly about tourism, and partly about writing and visiting with several of Dee's friends who now live here.

Here's an aerial view which shows the boundaries of the ancient walled town. Sorry, I didn't take this photo.

The wall around the town is high and wide and is a great place to stroll or jog, ride a bike, or simply sit on a bench and enjoy the view

We are staying in a small hotel across the street from the birthplace of Puccini. Music is everywhere and there are nightly concerts of operatic arias (Puccini wrote La Boheme, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, etc.) Our hotel is smack dab in the historic center, with the church of San Michele at the corner of our narrow street:

You don't drink tap water here, but there is a fountain nearby where the locals fill their water bottles.

I climbed the tallest tower in the in town to get this perspective. Notice how narrow the streets are!

Lots of churches and towers here:

Here's the cathedral which will be the focus of the Volta Santa, a religious procession done by candelight this evening

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Augsburg, Germany

Tracy was born in Augsburg, Germany during her father's stay in the military. I met her at the airport in Munich and we rented a car to explore her birthplace before traveling to Italy to meet up with our writing group. When checking out cars to rent, we asked about something "fun to drive" and ended up with this car:

Yes, it IS fun to drive!

Of course, while in Germany, do as the Germans do:

What? You were expecting churches or museums?