Saturday, February 02, 2008

On the horizon: a cruise in Europe

Just a quick heads-up. My parents just booked passage on a Danube River cruise for September of this year! I'm so happy for them. Their trip will take them from Budapest to Munich, via Vienna. Sounds lovely. Alas, you can't join them as they booked the very last cabin yesterday with Uniworld. And double Alas, we can't join them because the girls aren't 12 yet. That's fine with me - something to look forward to. I doubt the luxuriously leisurely pace would appeal to children, though it certainly appeals to ME (And Mom and Dad, I am not hinting. Seriously. Happy 42nd Anniversary, and here's to many more trips & beautiful memories).

I was daydreaming about travel today as we ran a few errands related to JieJie's 6th birthday, and from the back seat all I could hear were repeated questions... "Mom, when can we mail the invitations? When can we mail the invitations? MOM, whencanwemailtheinviTAAAAYYYY-SHUUUNNNNZZZ? And when can we get the things to fill the goodie bags and the pinata?" Etc.

These legendary rivers and waterways have shaped the history, culture and economy of Europe for thousands of years. Now they will help shape your vacation experience, giving you an intimate and up-close view at how life once was lived in Europe’s sophisticated cities and tiny villages. Travel through the heart of Europe and be prepared to be amazed as history unfolds before your eyes.--Uniworld website

Someday, a trip like that will be a dream come true, though I couldn't really enjoy a kid-free trip right now (the kid-free areas of the Disney Cruise ships strike a good balance, I think...parents get a break but still get to tuck the kiddies in). John and I are looking forward to going back to Washington Street Inn in Key West, one of our favorite spring break destinations pre-kids. But we can't. I just went looking for their website to make a hyperlink, and it looks like this secluded, sweet little kid-free getaway has changed owners and is now the Alexander Palms Court. Oh well. Good thing I returned the last book I borrowed from their resort library!

So Mom and Dad will send quick notes from their trip, and I can let you know how it goes. As for us, I saw John tracing a route through Northern Europe with his index finger last night. And one finger was on Goteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden...where the Volvo factory is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Highland Retreat, VA: a Great Escape

One of the great things about living in the Shenandoah Valley is being able to get away from the city and up in the mountains in such a short time. Last Saturday morning I had the privilege of leading a women's retreat program at Highland Retreat, a getaway northwest of Harrisonburg, just inside the West "by-God" Virginia line (not sure where the expression came from, but if you want to get a knowing smile and laugh around here, you just say "West By-God Virginia"). If you keep going on Route 259, pretty soon you get to Lost River and Lost City. So I suppose I was just shy of Lost when I arrived at Red Oak Lodge last Saturday morning just before the 8am breakfast was to begin. I was scheduled to do a program on voice (as in "finding one's ____") from 9-11am.
At 8:50, after a couple of coffees and a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage and fruit, prepared lovingly by the kitchen ladies, I took a couple of minutes to just stand outside and look and listen. The piece of land is up quite high, so the feeling is of being on a plateau. All around me were the tops of snow-covered mountains, and it was absolutely silent. No birds or bugs or breezes making sound, just that insulated dense quiet, the sound of blood in the ears, of breath, of shoes on the gravel driveway.
I remember how loud Harrisonburg seemed when we moved into the city from Massanutten Mountain over ten years ago. Now, my definition of quiet is more the absence of human or electronic sounds, but it's so easy to forget all the background noise that is loudest when taken away completely, when compared to a place like Highland Retreat.
If you are ever looking for a place to camp, to have a family reunion, a nature-themed wedding or a professional development retreat, click on the title of this post for more information. It's a lovely place.
Oh -- and the speed limit, once you pass the office / welcome building, is 14 1/2 mph.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama Abroad

As I write this, Barack Obama is celebrating his victory in the South Carolina primary. I wanted to share two things we noticed a year ago while living in Europe.

1.) While touring Brussels with our group of college students, John noticed Obama's picture proudly displayed in some apartment windows in an up-and-coming immigrant neighborhood there.

2.) While walking to posh Regent's Park, London (my mom says none other than Sir Paul McCartney has a townhouse there), we noticed our first Obama campaign poster in a window overlooking the beautiful park. We were really Obama poster in London in spring 2007???

I am acutely aware that people reading this blog come from a range of political persuasions (all of which you can find in my politically diverse extended family, and I've voted both sides of the aisle) but the interesting thing for me as someone who likes to travel is this: in electing someone to be (among other things) a figurehead of our nation, we are in many ways telegraphing to the rest of the world who we think we are. When we were in Belgium etc last year, we often felt sheepish saying we were American, given our current position among the nations of the world.

The head of the Antwerp program, before we left the U.S., made a presentation about the ways in which our students needed to keep a low profile . It was a rather funny PowerPoint presentation which included, among other things, not wearing a leather jacket with a giant American eagle emblazoned on the back, ha ha. But once we were over there, this was serious business. There were places of business we were told to avoid because there had been trouble when Americans went there (not many, but still!). And I remember wanting to go in those places, to prove that we are not all the same. Naive, yes. But still. You might also remember the conversation with Grumpy Flemish Bus Passenger in early March (search the blog for the anecdote).

I am certainly not saying that if Barack Obama becomes President that all of this will suddenly disappear, but I just wonder what it would be like to travel out of the country under something other than a Bush or Clinton administration. I've actually never done it, since my first trip to Europe was in 1993...

What would it be like, to put a different face on America? Guess we'll see.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...