Monday, March 18, 2019

More Jacarandas

Alejandro sent me some more photos of the jacarandas in Mexico City.

I can't wait to return in just three weeks!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Pretty in Purple

It is that time of year when Mexico City is decked out in the purple blossoms of the thousands of jacaranda trees.  Alejandro sent me this photo which looks down upon the Alameda park in the center of the city.

The jacaranda season is much too short, but, crossing my fingers, they will still be in bloom when I arrive on my next trip on April 9th.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Will Iceland Exhaust Me?

(image taken from the web)

My airline reservations on Icelandair have been made for my trip to Europe in August.  I will spend two nights in Reykjavik, Iceland, before continuing on to Switzerland, and I have reserved an Airbnb apartment.  Besides taking advantage of the new direct flights from Cleveland to Iceland, and having the opportunity to see a bit of a new country, I thought that one of the benefits of this itinerary would be to cut down on jet lag by dividing up the journey across the Atlantic.  Now, I am starting to think that I will arrive in Switzerland even more exhausted.

The flight from Cleveland leaves in the evening and arrives in Iceland's Keflavik Airport at 6:30 A.M. (2:30 A.M. Cleveland time).   I am one of those people who simply cannot sleep on an airplane.  I can fall asleep on a bus or a train or in a car, but never on a plane.  So I will arrive at my destination after a short, sleepless night.  The journey from the airport to the capital city of Reykjavik is a fifty minute bus ride (perhaps a chance for a nap, although I will more likely be too eager to observe the passing landscape to nod off).  I suppose that it will be about 8:00 A.M. when I arrive at Reykjavik's main bus station.  Check-in for my Airbnb apartment is not until 2:00 P.M.  I sent a message to the owner of the apartment, and she said that I could drop off my luggage at her place.  It is about a 20 minute walk from the bus station to the apartment.  Looking at Google Maps is appears to be a pleasant walk passing through one of the city's public parks.  I can handle that... IF it's not raining.  I could splurge and take an ultra-expensive taxi, but, according to my guide book, you have call to and reserve a taxi.  They are not lined up outside the bus station.  

So after I drop off my luggage with the owner, I then have about five hours to wander around Reykjavik until check-in, and hopefully it won't be RAINING.  After I have checked into my apartment, the temptation will be to take a nap.  However, my strategy for combatting jet-lag is to never give in to the desire to nap, but to force myself to get used to the new time zone.  I could do some more exploration of the city, or, if it is raining I could just stay inside and work on my blog.  By 9:00 P.M. (when it is still very much daylight outside) I will allow myself to succumb to the arms of Morpheus. 

My next day in Iceland I will book one of the popular "Golden Circle" tours which take in some of the sights of natural beauty on the island.  Those last between six and eight hours, so it will be a full day. (Fingers crossed that it is not raining.  If I seem obsessed with rain, it is because I suspect that the climate will be similar to the northern, maritime climate of Bergen, Norway.  On my visit to that city, sunshine was a very rare commodity.) 

In spite of the long hours of daylight, I will once again have to turn in early.  The next day, my flight to Zurich leaves at 7:30 A.M.  That means that I need to be at the airport at 5:30 A.M. … which means that I will have to take the 4:30 A.M. bus... which means that I will have to get up by 3:30 A.M.!

I will probably be a very weary traveler by the time I reach Zurich at I:00 in that afternoon!   

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Europe is On

As I wrote in my last post, my plans for a trip to Europe this summer were up in the air.  My cousin Gail and her husband Wes had booked a tour of Switzerland, and I was supposed to meet them there at the end of their tour.  They were going to stay on for a few days so that I could introduce them to our Swiss relatives and show them our ancestral village.  Then they were notified that their tour had been cancelled.  However, they found a tour with another company which ends in Zurich at about the same time.  Yesterday they booked it, and it is confirmed that it will not be cancelled.  So our trip is back on!

Right away I emailed my Swiss cousin Brigitta who lives outside of Zurich in the town of Uster.  I told her that we would be coming to Switzerland after all.  She is looking forward to seeing me again, and happy to meet another American cousin.  I will be staying at her house, but Gail and Wes have reserved a hotel room even though Brigitta said that they are welcome to stay at her place.  I also emailed my cousin Werner (Brigitta's brother) who lives in Madrid, Spain.  I told him that we would be in Switzerland, and he said that he would plan to be there too.  Brigitta is going to organize a family get-together at her house, so Gail will most likely meet a whole bunch of distant relatives.  I am sure that our cousins will be taking us under their wings.  They have always made me feel so welcome and truly a member of the family.  Werner has already said that he wants to take us to our ancestral town of Othmarsingen where we can see the house were Gail's and my great grandparents grew up, and the 17th century church where our ancestors were baptized, married and buried.

Fortunately for Gail, Wes and me, most of the Swiss cousins speak fluent English.  However, I should go back to Duolingo and study my German.  I was doing pretty well, but then I got away from it.

Last night I started planning an itinerary for myself.  Even though Brigitta told me that I could stay at her place for as long as I want, I don't want to be an imposition.  Besides, she is a teacher, and the new school year starts on August 19th.  I will stay there for about one week, but obviously I am not going to fly all the way to Europe for such a short trip.  This is going to be a chance to visit some new countries.  My readers will have something other than Mexico to read about!

Last year, Icelandair began non-stop service from Cleveland to Iceland. They offer airfares to Europe that include a stayover in Iceland at no additional cost.  So, I am going to take advantage of our new flight from Cleveland.  I will fly to Iceland several days before I am supposed to meet Gail and Wes in Switzerland.  I will spend two nights in Reykjavik, and I will get to see a bit of Iceland.  From there I will get an Icelandair flight to Zurich. 

Hotel prices in Reykjavik are outrageous.  The one hotel that is relatively reasonable is already fully booked for those dates.  However, I found several Airbnb apartments that are available and which are under $100 per night.  This would be my first time using Airbnb outside of Mexico.

After I have spent time with my Swiss family, and after Gail and Wes have returned home to Ohio, I will go to Zurich and take a train to Vienna, Austria.  I have scheduled seven days in Vienna.  There appears to be plenty to see there to fill up an entire week.  I will also want to take a day's excursion down the Danube, and it is an easy day trip by train to go to Bratislava, Slovakia.  (Another new country!)  From Vienna I will go by train to Munich, Germany.  I have scheduled five days there.  That should give me plenty of time to see the city, and take a side-trip to see the famous castle of Mad King Ludwig.

Happily, hotel prices in Vienna and Munich are not as sky-high as they are in Reykjavik (or Zurich).  I've found well-located hotels that have very good reviews that are under $100 per night.  The one in Vienna is right across the street from the train station.  I will be able to walk to the hotel when I arrive there.

Munich is served by Icelandair, so I can fly back to Iceland, and from there directly to Cleveland.  I am a bit nervous because the layover in Iceland is only 50 minutes.  However it will not be necessary to go through customs there.  If I miss my flight... it's the end of the trip.  If I get home a day later, it's no big deal.

Tomorrow I am going to start making airline, hotel and train reservations!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Changes in Plans

Each year, between my winter and my spring trips to Mexico, one major project which I have to complete is to paint a picture to donate to the spring auction held by one of my favorite charities, Los Amigos de las Américas.  (I have written about Los Amigos before on this blog.  It is an organization which sends U.S. high school and college students to Latin America to do volunteer work in poor villages.)

I had begun work on this year's painting.  As you can see, I had completed almost half of it.  It is a view of the lakeside town of Valle de Bravo, a place which I had visited on my latest trip to Mexico.

The auction is held in early April, and usually by this time someone from the organization has contacted me to ask if I am once again going to donate artwork.  A few days ago I emailed my contact person.  This morning I received a reply, and was told that for a number of reasons (which she did not detail) there would be no auction this year.  On the one hand I am concerned that things might not be going well for the Ohio chapter of Los Amigos.  But on the other hand, I don't have the pressure of completing the painting and delivering it before the end of this month.  I also have a bag of little Mexican handicrafts purchased on my various trips south of the border that I was going to donate to their silent auction.  

I will continue to work on the painting, but at my leisure.  And I will save the bag of handicrafts.  Hopefully next year Los Amigos will once again have an auction, and I will be ahead of the game.

In other news, my planned trip to Europe this summer is in the air.  I have written frequently about my third cousin Gail who shares Swiss ancestors with me.  She and her husband had signed up for a guided tour of Switzerland for this summer.  The plan was that they would stay on in Switzerland for a few days after the end of the tour, I would meet them there, and I would introduce them to our Swiss cousins.  My cousin Brigitta, who lives outside of Zurich, was going to organize a family reunion while we were there.  We were dealing with a very tight time frame because Brigitta, who is a teacher, was going to be traveling over much of her summer vacation.  There was just one week in August that would work for her.  Gail had found a tour that fit into that time frame. 

Gail had told me that the tour company had not yet confirmed those dates.  We assumed that not enough people had signed up for that particular tour yet, but it was still early.  Nevertheless I was holding off on making my travel reservations until they had a confirmation.  Yesterday, Gail told me that for some unexplained reason their tour had been cancelled.  She is looking into some other companies that might have tours of Switzerland that conclude in Zurich at the right time.  So that trip is a question mark. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Flamenco in Columbus

Last Friday I drove down to Columbus to spend the weekend with family.  My sister-in-law Phyllis had bought tickets for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.  The concert featured music by Spanish classical composers as well as a performance of flamenco.  I really am not an expert on flamenco, but I was rather disappointed in the dance segment of the concert.  The dancer was a lady from Cuba who has been a long-time resident of Columbus where she owned a dance studio.  It seemed to me that her motions, especially her arm movements, were very stiff and mechanical.  I didn't mention anything to Phyllis at first, but later she said that she wasn't impressed and that it was not as good as the flamenco show that we saw some years ago in Spain.

The second half of the program departed from the Spanish theme, and consisted of Dvorak's "New World Symphony", one of my favorites.  The orchestra did a very nice job, and I was happy that the program had ended on a good note.  But then, the flamenco dancer came out again for an encore and did some more robotic stomping around.  Oh well, they say that it is hard to find quality flamenco in Spain.  I guess I should not have expected great flamenco in Columbus!  

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Biennial of Watercolors

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a special exhibition on display at the National Watercolor Museum in Mexico City.  They were holding their 13th Watercolor Biennial.  This show has grown over the years to now include 200 artists from 29 countries.  It has outgrown the exhibition space, so the Biennial must now be shown in three separate parts.  The final exhibit was going on when I was there.

Here is a sampling of the artwork from all over the world...

"Question of Faith" by Aníbal Oblitas, Peru

"Light" by José Barreiros, Portugal

"Owl" by Roman Kharevsky, Czech Republic

"Return from the Stroll" by Nina Diakova, Russia

"Circus" by Milos Sibinovic, Serbia

"Sunset over the Maldonado Brook" by Roberto Weigel, Uruguay

"Birds in a Tree" by Irving René Lamparero, Panama

"Ballet" by Thu Huowg Nguyen, Vietnam

"They Call Me Chubasco" by Victoria Pareja, Mexico