Monday, June 29, 2015

#401 Spring Tune Up

In April I participated in a weekend bike ride in Madison, Georgia.  It’s the BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia) Spring Tune Up.  You don’t really ride across Georgia; it’s just loops of varying lengths around the town of Madison.  My bike friends from Florida (Steve and Tracy) had signed up, along with another friend (Ken) from North Carolina.  Yes, it is even earlier than my June century ride last year, but the mileage was way lower.  I can do this! 

The week of the ride I checked out the weather.  Thunderstorms.  All weekend.  Sigh.  I kept tracking each day, and Steve kept doing his anti-rain dance.  It worked, as the forecast shifted to partly cloudy Saturday and “just” rain Sunday. 

I flew to Atlanta Friday after work.  I almost didn’t make it – when they scanned my boarding pass it made a weird noise and I had to go the customer-service desk at the gate.  “You don’t have a seat.”  What??  I had checked in!  Luckily, there was one guy on board who had offered to give up his seat so I got the last seat and a $50 voucher for my trouble. 

I landed in Atlanta around 9 p.m.  Got my rental car and drove off into the dark, rainy night.  Madison is an hour east of Atlanta.  I arrived at the park around 10:30 p.m. and let my friends know I was in the parking lot.  They had arrived Thursday and were snug and dry in their tents, along with all the other bikers.  They came out in the rain with flashlights trying to find my car.  “Flash your headlights!”  Ken finally found me.  He grabbed my bag from the trunk and carried it to my tent that Steve had ready for me.  The day before Steve had texted that it was waiting for me, all warm and dry.  When Ken unzipped the door Friday night the tent was filled with water.  “Houston, we have a problem!”  Steve actually said that out loud.  I‘m sure the other campers loved our late-night hijinks!     
I ended up sleeping in Ken’s suburban.  They threw two yoga mats and a blanket in the back and I put my sleeping bag on top of it.  I slept in my clothes.  Didn’t wash my face or brush my teeth.  It was past 11 p.m. and I was tired. 

Before I turned in Ken said he’d lock me in the car so no one would grab me.  I did have the key fob.  I slept fairly well considering.  At 6:30 a.m. I had to go to the bathroom.  When I opened the door – the alarm went off.  OMG!  I fumbled for the key fob but the buttons didn’t work!  I don’t know why I thought of this, but I dove headfirst into the front seat and started the car.  It worked!  The alarm only sounded for about 10 seconds but it felt like an eternity.  And I’m sure the other campers thought the same thing.  Later Steve said he laughed when he heard it go off and wondered if it was me.  Ken knew it was his car but hoped I’d shut if off because he wasn’t getting out of his tent.  Thanks a lot! 

With all quiet (and an empty bladder – it’s a wonder I didn’t pee my pants!), I slept a bit longer.  Then we hung out by the tents on the soggy soccer field and Steve cooked up quite a breakfast on his little camp stove.  

Making the best of a soggy morning
Eggs, turkey bacon and pancakes.  Yum!  It rained steadily all morning.  We decided not to ride so we drove into downtown Madison to check things out.  It’s a very cute town with lots of shops.  We saw a sign outside one of the shops which summed up our weekend.  

After lunch and walking around more, we went back to the park.  I took a shower (finally – it was around 4:30 p.m.) and Steve took down my soggy tent.  We went back into town and had a great dinner. 

Night two in the suburban.  This time I had a comfy sleeping pad.  And I had brushed my teeth!  Sunday morning we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel and then Steve and Tracy headed back to Orlando.  

Tracy, Ken, Linda, Steve
Ken and I drove to Athens, Georgia.  Then he went home and I drove to Auburn in the pouring rain.  It’s alarming to hear there is a tornado watch when you have no idea what county you’re in!  Made it to Auburn and hit the bookstores, also walking by a newly revamped Toomer’s Corner. 

I drove to a friend’s house but they weren’t home yet so sat in my parked car and relaxed for about an hour.  I thought the neighborhood watch patrol would come out and ask me what I was doing there.  Kirk and son Jake got home from basketball practice and I visited with them for a while.  I heard all about the Toomer’s Corner celebration from the day before.  Joe Jonas, Nelly and Kesha performed.  Jake was right up front!  Lisa and other son Hayes got home from a basketball tournament in Birmingham and I had about 15 minutes before I had to leave for the airport.  Although a short visit, it’s always great to go back to Auburn. 

At the airport I boarded one of the trams to go to my concourse.  A tall man wearing a sweatsuit got on.  He looked really familiar so I told him so, then asked, “Do I know you?”  He stepped closer and asked my name.  I told him, and asked his name.  “Jerry Stackhouse.”  Well, that would be why he looks familiar!  Haha  He played at North Carolina in the late 90’s.  I laughed and said I had been around basketball most of my life and was trying to figure out where I knew him.  Turns out I knew who he was, but didn’t know him at all.  We chatted in the tram and then up the escalator to the concourse.  He was really nice and laid back.  He was headed to an Adidas camp and asked if I had any kids (always recruiting!).  No, sorry.  I should have asked if he had any tall, single friends.  Oh well! 

After a whirlwind weekend I finally got to bed at 2 a.m.  All didn’t go as I’d hoped, but I had a blast with my friends and made a new one.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

#400 The Bigger They Are...

How do I begin?  I’ll just come right out and say it:  I fell at work.  Around 4:30 p.m. a few months ago I was walking out of my cube holding three lightweight boxes, stumbled on some other boxes on the floor, and promptly fell over onto my left side. 

The pre-fall seemed to be in slow motion.  I thought I could catch myself and then WHAM.  I was down.  Hard.  I have no idea where the boxes I was holding went (after they bruised my left forearm), but I hit the ground and people down the hall came quickly. 

I was wearing a dress but don’t think I flashed anyone.  One of my shoes did come off.  I righted myself and put my shoe back on, then adjusted my glasses.  As a new glasses wearer, I must say that wearing glasses makes falling that much worse.  Not only are you embarrassed about falling, but your glasses become askew and you look ridiculous.  I’m thankful I didn’t break them!

I’m also thankful I didn’t break myself.  Now I know how people break a hip.  Along with my scraped left inner arm, the side of my left knee blew up like a golf ball and my left hip was sore.  A few days later I had a pretty blue, green and orange bruise on it.  It was so colorful I kept showing people to see them gasp.  I showed one of my tennis friends at practice and her response was, “Oh sweet Jesus!” 

I had a bike trip planned that weekend.  Luckily it didn’t affect my riding (stay tuned for a future post about that ride).  When I told one of my friends I had fallen at work he asked, “Did you yell timber on the way down?”  Which made me wonder, if a tall girl falls at work and no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound?  Yes, she does.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

#399 Good Things

A few months ago I saw that the BoDeans were coming to Rathskeller, one of my favorite summer haunts.  I immediately bought a ticket, thinking if none of my friends went, I would for sure go by myself.  Luckily my friend Alyce got a gang together to go. 

I have loved the BoDeans since college and had heard that Kenny Aronoff had been touring with them.  As the concert approached I occasionally checked the BoDeans’ and Kenny Aronoff’s twitter feeds to get updates on whether Kenny would play with them at this date.  About a week before the show Kenny posted pictures from Hawaii so I thought he was taking a break and had resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t get to see him. 

A couple days before the show I saw posts that he was coming!  Yes!!  I immediately sprang into action, making a skirt from the t-shirt I received after his appearance at Butler last fall (see Post No. 386).  I was ready. 

So last Thursday night Alyce and I met Tracey, Lyndsey, Shelby and Uncle Charlie, and headed for the biergarten.  I got a water from my favorite bartender and settled in at a table.  It was a beautiful night.  We missed former Push Down and Turn singer Jason Brown open, then heard current BoDeans member Sam Hawksley play the second opener.    

Once the Bodeans took the stage I was up in front.  I wanted Kenny to see my shirt (and hoped he'd remember meeting me).  The awkward placement of his face on the front (right above my crotch) prevented me from pointing at it so I stood back and hoped he see it.  Then I enjoyed the 1 1/2 hour show.  Alyce and I saw them at the Vogue several years ago, but this time was even better.  A beautiful summer night with beautiful music.  Doesn't get any better!

America's best drummer playing at America's best biergarten!
I hoped they would hang out a bit after the show, but they split out the side parking lot entrance.  Bummer!  Oh well, I met him in September and that was great, so we sat and chatted at the picnic table for about half an hour.  Around 10 p.m. we decided to leave.  Lindsey and Shelby wanted to stop and use the inside bathroom and I joined.  As we walked out, I saw a bald head coming out of the restaurant area.  “Kenny!!”  He turned around and I quickly said I’d seen him at Butler and was wearing his shirt.  He loved it!  He couldn’t get over it.  And he loved the placement of his face.  Hahaha  I then showed him the back and he loved that too. 

My friends were in shock.  While they took photos with him I attempted to introduce everyone.  “These are my friends Alyce and Tracey.  And this is Uncle Charlie.”  (He stood to the side.)  (Side note – Tracey is a huge John Mellencamp fan so this was cool for her too.) 

He said he’d be back in October for another talk similar to Butler and is playing with John Fogerty in July in Indy.  When I told him I’d seen him at Butler he asked if he’d met me.  Then asked, “Were you this tall then?”  He asked my name before he walked away and shook my hand. 

I am so serious when I say this - despite him being under 6’0”, I would totally go out with him if he wasn’t married.  My height limit would go out the window.  Buh bye! 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alyce told me prior to the show that she had a dream the night before that “something would happen.”  She was referring to when we saw Cheap Trick on New Year’s Eve many years ago (see Post No. 142). 

What a great night!  The BoDeans sounded great.  They are the sound of college to me.  I own maybe two of their CDs and honestly, I don’t understand the words to most of their songs, but I just love their sound.  And to see Kenny in action with a band was the cherry on top.  A very good thing.  

Monday, June 8, 2015

#398 When In Rome...

You made it, Italy lovers!  I have reached our final destination on our whirlwind Italian vacation. 

Tuesday morning Julie and I took a train to Rome, which is one-and-a-half hours from Florence.  I love to look out the window at the countryside and hate to miss anything, but I was so sleepy on this particular ride that I kept dozing off.  Sunny + warm = zzzzzzz.  

We arrived at our hotel just before Noon.  We got lost again trying to find the hotel.  I went into another hotel to ask directions and the man was on the phone so had to wait several minutes.  Julie was waiting on the street and thought someone had abducted me. 

We finally made it to Discover Roma.  The hotel manager was waiting for us and was incredibly nice.  He marked up a map to show us all the places to go.  He also told us where not to go after dark.  Our room was ok.  There was no breakfast included or available at the hotel so we grabbed stuff on the street (I think I ate Cliff Bars for breakfast).  Not too exciting.  We also were given a key to get in and out of the building on our own.  I had the man’s telephone number (he told us to take a photo of it with our cell phones) so we had it in case of emergency.

We took off wandering but had to be at the Colosseum by 2 p.m. for a three-hour tour, which included the Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, Piazza Novella and the Pantheon.  We walked the streets for a while and kept wondering, “Where is all the old stuff?”  We finally saw it.  Holy cow!  The Colosseum is enormous!  

Our tour guide was great – and looked like a young Billy Crystal.  

You look mahvelous!
We rested our tired feet while having dinner right outside the Pantheon.

Pantheon roof - made of concrete.  The hole in the ceiling is the only source of light.  

Later that night we had a free tour of just the Pantheon.  It was interesting to get a different perspective.

Wednesday morning we rode a bus to Vatican City.  Later we found out right after we got off the bus, the bus system went on strike.  Apparently they do this sometimes.  We’d just made it!  Luckily their strikes don’t last long and we were fine going back. 

We decided to tour the Vatican Wednesday.  The pope usually has his audience on Wednesday mornings so we figured we’d avoid the rush in the Vatican Museum.  I happened to see on Facebook that a friend of mine was in Rome at the same time and was seeing the pope the same day.  Neither Julie nor I are Catholic so we didn’t feel a strong urge to spend the time to see him.  We caught another tour to see the museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel.  Our guide, Debra, was great! 

Side story – throughout our trip, in each city, we would see what appeared to be old ladies with headscarves and long skirts (I would call them gypsys) on the streets.  Most would be almost prostrate, with their faces bent toward the ground so you couldn’t see them.  They looked so uncomfortable.  I don’t usually give out money to those on the streets in the States, so did not in Italy.  As we walked along in Vatican City, we passed one of these gypsys on the tour.  After we passed her, Debra stopped and gave us some advice, telling us that when we see these women, “They walk like this” and she bent over, walking like a feeble old woman.  Then she wagged her finger and added, “No, they walk like this” and she proceeded to walk upright.  She warned us to never give money to them.  Heck, they may be around 25 years old for all we know! 

Once inside, we mostly saw the museum grounds and some of the inner gardens.  

Cortile della Pigna (courtyard of the pine cone)

Sphere in Cortile della Pigna

Laocoon and his sons in the Cortile Ottagano

We were more concerned with seeing the Sistine Chapel so didn’t take time to see the rest of the museum on our own.  We waited by the doors thinking we had to wait another hour or so, but they opened and there we were!  It was amazing!  I regret that I had forgotten my binoculars back in the room.  (I brought them just for this!)  The Sistine Chapel is small-ish but incredible.  We stood there for a long time bending our heads back looking up at the ceiling.  Even though photos are not allowed, we did see a few people sneaking photos when the guards weren’t looking.  I respected the rules and drank it all in.  Photos wouldn’t do it justice anyway. 

This was outside the chapel on the grounds
The hallway leading to the chapel with ancient maps on the walls

To the left, to the left...
While the chapel is fairly small and simple, the basilica is huge and ornate.  We checked out the downstairs area where some cardinals and popes are buried, and stepped into the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  

Basilica altar
Looking out the window from the basilica
Thank you, Jesus!
We were even able to climb to the top of the basilica dome.  More steps!  This wasn’t too bad though, because it was one way up and one way down.  The stairs were inside but we were able to step outside and walk around the top.  What a view!  And who did we meet up there?  A group of women (sisters/friends) from Marion, Indiana.  Howdy neighbors! 

Inside St. Peter's dome

View of Vatican City from the top of St. Peter's dome

Steps inside the basilica dome.  
As we exited the basilica we noticed the long line snaking around St. Peter’s Square, where we had once stood.  This was all the people from the pope’s audience now waiting to go through the museum.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Great decision.

you can see the line of people in the background

Later that evening we did Rick Steves’ “Heart of Rome Walk” from Campodi Fiore to the Spanish Steps.  Again, the night perspective was nice and less crowded.  We saw the Trevi Fountain, which was under construction.  We were very disappointed as it was covered with scaffolding.  They had a metal walkway so you could walk out over the actual fountain (with no water).  They reserved a small area of water where you could toss your coin over your shoulder.  It wasn’t the same.

Linda making her wish.  "I wish the Trevi Fountain was not covered in scaffolding!"
The rain started just as we walked across the Trevi walkway and they closed it right after we were done.  Good timing again!  The rain increased to a downpour so we decided it was time for dinner.  We were entertained by the other tourists outside the window that were drenched.  After the rain let up we continued our walk to finish at the Spanish Steps.  Due to the rain the area was mostly empty and quiet.  We had a nice view of the Fontana della Barcaccia, (the fountain of the ugly boat) at the base of the steps.

The next day we walked by the steps and found it much more crowded.

During our night walk we noticed several Madonnas on the street corners. Who knows how old they are?  They fascinate me.  I am intrigued not only by the religious meaning, but how beautiful and ornate they are. I feel like she is watching over everyone walking the streets of Rome.

On our last day in Rome we explored some of the parks.  We noticed that there is not much green space in the cities we visited.  If there is any green space, there are fences around it preventing anyone from walking on the grass.  We stumbled upon the Villa Borghese gardens and spent quite a bit of time in there.  Beautiful!

Our next stop was Palatine Hill, where we spent a couple of hours, and then the Forum  Lots of ruins.  It’s cool for a while and they all start to look the same.

Palatine Hill

We got stuck in another downpour and this time ducked into a bar to wait it out. We had dinner down the street from our hotel at the Historia de Vicenzo.  The area is filled with embassies and our hotel guy recommended it as a good place.  It was.  They charge extra for everything, but I enjoyed the meal and it was very nice inside. 

My first impression of Rome, which didn’t change much during our stay, was of it being a busy, noisy, spread out city.  It’s also more expensive than the other cities we visited.    I’m glad I saw the ruins, but I have to say that Vatican City was my favorite part.  And as cool as everything is there, I don’t know that I need to go back.  For first-timers, the capital city is an obvious must-see. 

The next morning we caught the train to the Rome airport.  We sat next to two women from Chicago.  We enjoyed chatting with them and listening to their stories.  They had been to Paris and Italy for two weeks. 

On the plane we in the middle section.  Thank goodness we had more legroom on this flight.  Julie and I were on either end, with an Italian man in between us (I later found out his name was Nino).  The in-flight movies were an X-Men movie (very confusing) and The Monuments Men (very good).  Our flight food was chicken, rice and salad and a roll for lunch, a snack consisting of a Kit Kat bar and cookies, and a deep dish pizza for dinner.  After two weeks of amazing Italian food, both Julie and I looked at our pizza with disdain.  I ate it of course (I was hungry!) but it just wasn’t the same. 

Back to Nino.  I noticed that he kept asking the flight attendant about the food.  I finally found out that he is allergic to dairy.  He hardly ate anything so I offered him some of my almonds.  He is from Salerno, Italy and was traveling with his daughter, who sat across the aisle from me.  They were headed to San Francisco.  He has an organic farm and was mainly going to attend a conference.  He attended college in California and was also visiting the woman who owned the house he used to live in.  He was really nice and gave me his name and email.  He said when we returned to Italy we could visit him in Salerno. 

We stopped in Chicago, did the customs thing, then had to re-check our bags.  The short flight to Indy had no legroom again.  Drat!  We landed at 8:15 p.m. and I was home by 9 p.m.  I unpacked a little and then got sucked into a Sex And The City marathon.  I finally went to bed at 11 p.m.  I was up for 24 hours! I woke up at 5 a.m. and thought it was 5 p.m. since it was dark.  I was very disoriented! 

In conclusion, this was an incredible trip.  I was super stressed at the beginning, hoping everything would go ok, thinking about catching trains, etc.  But everything turned out great.  And I have found that some of the hiccups along the way can provide the best experiences and stories.  (I'm just really glad my story didn't include losing my bag on a train going the opposite direction!)  

I am also thankful that I could take such a trip with one of my bestest friends - Julie!  We've known each other since the ninth grade and have traveled to New York and various Final Four cities, but this trip beats all of those hands down.  Where shall we go to next JO?  :-)

LG and JO at the Colosseum
Some of my observations and tips for traveling in Europe:
  • Everyone wears skinny jeans!  Men, women, children, elderly.  I felt very self-conscious in Milan but then got over it.  I had only brought boot cut/flared jeans.  Quite honestly, I don’t like to wear skinny jeans when it’s hot.  My legs get suffocatingly hot. 
  • Gap and Clarks are everywhere!  Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome.  Who knew! Venice had the best prices on leather.  Some of the purses I looked at in Venice were 18 euros and they were 25 euros in Florence.  Venice had more variety also. 
  • Public toilets are usually pay toilets that cost around 1.50 euros.  We learned to use the toilets on the trains and in restaurants where we had dined.   
  • Parking is very scarce and the streets very narrow, therefore many people ride bicycles or scooters.  I loved seeing nicely-dressed people riding around town.  Some ladies even ride in heels.     
  • We both got AAA Visa cards with chips in them and they worked fine everywhere except the train station ticket machines.  Mystery!  I did go to an ATM once in Florence and it worked fine.  
  • I brought a couple long skirts with me and found that they worked very well.  They were warm for the cool mornings, yet had great airflow during the hot days.  They also protected my legs from the sun and I didn’t have to wear as much sunscreen.  I felt a bit “nerdy” though, as I wore my walking shoes with my skirts.  I brought one pair of sandals but they were not conducive for walking all day.  After I got home, I researched sandals and found a pair of AEO B.I.O sandals – the Balboa Neutral.  I got a great deal on them and can’t wait to try them out this summer.  They will definitely accompany me on any other overseas trip.  I will be set with these and my walking shoes. 
  • Be prepared to walk.  A LOT.   Julie wore a Fitbit during our trip.  We averaged 20,355 steps per day, with 284,970 total steps for two weeks.  Our high day was September 21 – 28,586 steps.  This was our day in Milan where we took a walking tour.  Yes, I wore my Clarks sandals that day.  (I had worn one of my long skirts and wanted to look cute in the fashion capital of the world.)  That was the only time I wore those sandals during the day.  Lesson learned. 
I have enjoyed writing about my travels.  I hope you have enjoyed reading it.  I also hope that you are able to travel to wherever it is your heart wants you to go.  You won’t regret it.  Happy traveling!