Thursday, July 25, 2019

Life is like a roll of toilet paper . . .

     Andy Rooney was my favorite humorist. Click here for explanation of a humorist versus a comedian. I remember chuckling years ago when he said "Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes." But now that I'm almost as old as Andy when he made that analogy, it's not as funny. No disease (yet), just reminders from aging joints and tendons that I'm mortal.

     Traveling in La Lair for the past four years throughout the United States and Canada made me realize how small my life has been in rural Texas. It's a state that boasts about 54 things that are bigger in Texas. But I wasn't living large in Texas.
     Twenty-eight years ago, at age 40, I moved to quiet, peaceful rural "Piney Woods of East Texas" from the capital city of Pennsylvania, happily giving up my administrative public education career and urban lifestyle due to burn-out. East Texas was a good salve career-wise and recreation-wise. My fondest memories are finishing the day at my good-paying non-stressful federal government job (7 AM to 3:30 PM office job, no congested commuter traffic, mostly rural roads). In the heat of the day after work, I'd drive a few miles north on a dirt road to swim open-water in a clear quarry, no alligators!

     And after a refreshing swim I'd stop by a neighbor's ranch to ride my chestnut Thoroughbred horse JC who was as shiny as a brand new copper penny. We'd trot and get sweaty for a couple of hours in a private forest with over 20 miles of groomed trails to choose from (hunters took real good care of this forest all year-long). No highway hum, no police or EMS sirens blasting through the neighborhood (when will Americans demand siren changes?).  All I'd hear was leaves rustling in the wind and boisterous crows and songbirds . . occasionally a herd of deer leaping through brush in the distance. I'd crow-speak, deer-speak (bleat) and sing songs to JC because my voice assured her all was well in our neck of the woods. And it truly was . . .

     When JC died, I leased and rode Topaz an Arabian for a couple years from my good friend Sally. But Topy is 28 years old with arthritic joints too, and she's enjoying a well-earned retirement with plenty of treats and kisses. Sally's taking good care of her.

      I've been a lucky woman with a handful of great Texan friends. Plus thousands of acres of private and federally-owned forests, beautiful sunsets and wonderful dinners and companionship too at my neighbor Chef Jim's lake-side home, admiring migratory White Pelicans on Lake Livingston.  

But when I retired and traveled half the year in La Lair, my cottage was neglected more and more.

     Winters were spent scraping and painting. And stuff inside my cottage was collecting dust . . . a forlorn-looking vintage cookie jar from my mom hadn't held a cookie in half a century . . .

. . . sad-looking rolling pins from both grandmothers hadn't rolled in 50 years.

     In a short amount of time, vintage stuff that brought joy now brought angst and a bit of guilt. How many sheets of toilet paper would it take to keep my ancestors' stuff dust-free and displayed for whom, and for how long? And why?  This handmade wooden sign in my living room reminded me every day of my motto for the past 40 plus years.

     So I sold 43 vintage items on Ebay.  I became "an excellent seller" with high ratings because everything started at a low asking price and was packed well. My goal was to get rid of stuff to someone appreciative, not to make money. Sold a couple things via Craigslist and Facebook's Marketplace, made a few trips to Goodwill and to second-hand consignment shops (worn old pots, matching wedding bands from my first marriage, my Grandparents' mahogany Empire chest, a primitive jelly cupboard, my great Uncle Matthew's Saratoga Steam Chest, my Grandparents' two antique mantel clocks, etc.). Dropped off old computers and tech gear at the nearest Staples. I'm now less-owned by my ancestors' stuff which is liberating.

     Sold too was my 860-square-foot "Piney Woods" cottage which I bought with cash 28 years ago. Over 40 viewers "saved" my real estate listing on Zillow because it's a cute cottage. Not surprisingly, it was popular with women like myself wanting peace and quiet in a natural forest setting with no lawn to mow. Nor is it necessary to bag fall leaves.

     My next cottage if or when that day comes, will be designed for a 99-year independent old lady. It will have exclusively acrylic flooring (easy to clean, no vacuum cleaners, no grout to clean), metal roof (no replacements in my lifetime), one-story (no stairs), built-in shelves (no bureaus or end tables), walk-in sit-down shower and grab-rails (no falls and cracked hips), and a nearby (short walk or bike ride) indoor heated lap swimming pool and jacuzzi.

I'll miss the busy deer path in my backyard; nearby there's a ravine with pools of water.

     Won't miss Texas' abundant insects.  This Giant Walking Stick was climbing up my window outside (photo below).  I was inside for an underbelly photo shot, holding a 6-inch ruler. Its' skinny double antennae (longer than its' six legs) are on the left side protruding from its' tiny minuscule head. The tail tip (far right) looks like a clamp. Very interesting insect that moves slowly to fool its predators.

     Packed a U-Haul trailer, hitched it up to La Lair and drove northeast . . . almost 1,200 miles averaging 19.7 mpg in La Lair. Fortunately no mishaps!

     . . . put my whittled-down stuff in a 10'x15' storage unit in a small mountain town in Virginia.

     Now it's just La Lair and me on a different kind of journey.



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Absorbing the Cracovian Atmosphere

     Krakow or Cracow, it's the same city spelled either way. It's the second largest city in Poland; the largest is Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Last November 2018, my sister Vicki and I spent a few days in the city's Old Town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there, Poland was celebrating its 100th anniversary of the end of WW I when Poland regained its independence.

     Everybody and anybody was eating, walking and celebrating Poland's independence on November 11, 2018. Outside heaters were blazing because it was a bit chilly.

Even the horse-drawn carriages were all gussied-up that day.

See me with my camera in photo below, lower left? What am I doing?

I'm impressed with the anti-skid horse shoes! Cobblestones are dangerously slippery for trotting horses. I've seen quite a few horses elsewhere skid and slide when trotting on cobblestones. So I was impressed by the Poles' level of care and love for their carriage horses. All the carriage horses were wearing these special shoes. On the rear of the shoe is an over-sized bar that prevents slipping on the cobblestone.

Planty Park is a wonderful median strip in Old Town Krakow; more than 2 miles long. Vicki and I strolled along this park with falling autumn leaves as often as possible while visiting historic sites.

Soft pretzels were cheap too! Vendors everywhere on the streets.

We strolled by the University of Jagiellonska founded in 1364.

     I'm adding my expertise with two math students (in sculpture) who were intellectually energized about meeting on campus with Professor Hugo Steinhaus.

We strolled for several miles toward the Vistula River.

Overlooking the Vistula River is the Wawel Castle and its Cathedral.

This is Saint Mary's Basilica (below) built in the 14th century.

Many wonderfully historic architectural styles.

And plenty of cathedrals, too.

We strolled through the Jewish Quarter (click here for explanation).

Eating at the infamous Starka Restaurant required three days advance reservation!

Everything was presented picture-perfect, including the hot mulled wine on a chilly day.

The Jewish Quarter has a huge selection of restaurants. Below is Hevre, a restaurant converted (but not refurbished fortunately retaining its "if walls could talk" stories) from a 19th century Jewish prayer house.

Sitting at a table in Hevre, my sister Vicki captured me with the Impressionist influence of Olga Boznanska, a Polish painter, on her camera. It's called "Woman Imbibes the Cracovian Atmosphere".

Below photo shows the entrance of Mundo Hostel; it was a great place to stay and close to everything including the train and bus stations.

We took two day-long side-trips via a bus. One bus to Auschwitz (click here for my previous post) and another bus to the Wieliczka Salt Mine.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine hired miners and horses for almost six centuries, discontinuing in 1996.

It's now a historical museum.

The walkways and stairs and displays are fascinating.

One room is carved crystallized salt, including the chandeliers.

Very eerie place . . . . the mine is over 1,000 feet deep (includes a lake) with a labyrinth of passageways and chambers totaling 178 miles.

Tourists exit on an underground tram.

It was a sad day when Vicki and I flew back to Berlin, concluding our three-month European adventures. 

Our last leg, from Budapest and Cracow, was like leaving a party when you're having the most fun! Those two cities are high on my "must visit again" list.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pest and Buda, Hungary AKA Budapest

     Budapest is an exotic name for a city, I love saying it! The origin of the name is simply the unification of the town of Buda on the west side of the Danube River . . . (below is the Buda Castle)

. . . with the town of Pest on the east side of the river . . . (below is Hungary's Parliament Building on the east side of the Danube River) . . . 

. . . and both historic towns are connected by the iconic bridge, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

     One year ago when my sister Vicki and I were planning our European destinations, she asked me "Where do you want to go?" my first reply was "Budapest!" Maybe those WWII movies and travel shows influenced me, but Budapest has always charmed and enticed me.

And I was not disappointed; it's now my favorite European city. 

     The city doesn't skimp on preserving its historic buildings, nor its nighttime lights. Above photo is one of its historic train stations with very modern commuter trains; below photo is the very same train station's exterior domes. For a fuller affect of Budapest at night, click here for a video of Budapest Nighttime Domes.

Vicki and I walked at least six miles every day. We walked everywhere downtown; only one mile from our boutique hostel (in a historic building). It was gorgeous weather for city walking; four coolish-days during the first week of November 2018. I will let these photos do the talking . . . 

We stepped inside the iconic St. Stephen's Basilica, too.

Outside view of the Basilica . . .

The Dohany Street synagogue wasn't open to the public when we were there . . . click here for info about its weeping willow sculpture below, and why the Jewish cemetery is here.

Many plazas downtown . . .

. . . and tiny historic streets with limited traffic.

     Every street was fascinating, but the most exciting thrilling and satisfying visit for me was the Great Market Hall. From the outside, it doesn't look impressive . . .

But inside, wow! all the sights, smells, restaurants, produce stands, music, historical architecture, crowds of people mingling around . . . just the combination of everything gave me a natural high.

We ate lunch at the Fakanal Restaurant, one of the numerous places to eat inside the market . . . Hungarian Goulash soup of course!

There was "Gipsy Music" there too, which brought back a flood of memories. About 55 years ago when I was practicing my piano lessons, I joyfully played Brahms "Hungarian Dance" which was played staccato (lively foot tapping music). These guys played staccato!

Directly across the Danube River from the Great Market Hall is the famous Hotel Gellert.

This historic hotel has an impressive lobby . . . . 

. . . and a bath complex built from 1912 to 1918 (destroyed during WWII but rebuilt).

Next to this historic hotel was a steep hill (Gellert Hill) which required a couple rest periods while walking up the winding path, but once at the top, there was a wonderful view of Pest.

Nearby was the Citadella and a park on top of the hill. It was windy and chilly on top of the hill and we were wearing winter gear, caps and gloves. Vicki was wearing white gloves. All of a sudden (because she was wearing white gloves) Vicki breaks into a Michael Jackson Moon Dance in a park on top of the hill overlooking the river and the city, which totally surprised me.  It was one of those rare delightful surprises -- I would have never guessed she'd do a really good Moon Dance :)

     After walking another couple of miles up and down cobblestone paths . . . .  when we had just completed up/down about three hills, we'd see another hill in front of us which was totally discouraging. Tour busses by the way are numerous and very busy; most folks don't walk. But fortunately, we both agreed we'd rather walk than take a bus.

     We visited the Halaszbastya which is sort of like a Walt Disney Fantasy Land of Hungary's medieval history. It was built in the 19th Century to celebrate Hungary's history; it's located in the Buda Castle area.

 It's an impressive complex with wonderful views of both Buda and Pest across the Danube River.

Vicki took this shot below of me with my camera. All these photographs in my European posts are my sister Vicki's photographs; unbeknownst to me at the time, my micro-SD card had malfunctioned.

The Matthias Church is another iconic Buda landmark.

We walked another couple miles through Buda's delightful business district . . . 

 . . . had dinner in a loft area at a cute little mom and pop restaurant, got wonderfully lost on the subway back to the hostel, got wonderfully lost again on the streets around the hostel, whew! I'm thinking "traveling is like a full-time job with overtime!" Good thing we got some rest on our flight to Krakow, Poland (next post) because that city was almost as enjoyable as Budapest.