Six States, Lots of Friends, Two Musical Legends, and Dogs!

Map Week 51

Week 51 of 52

Who knew part of Florida was in the Central Time Zone? When we showed up an hour early at Sharon and Tom’s home near Destin, a popular resort area on the Florida panhandle, we learned that, indeed, the western end of Florida is not on Eastern Time! But they welcomed us anyway into their beautiful waterfront home, complete with lighted dock and boat. Sharon ran Sharene’s company, Bed & Breakfast International, in the 1990s, and she went to work for Sharene at WorldRes after that. She and Tom then relocated to Hawaii and have recently moved to Florida where they are both in the real estate business with Keller Williams. Check out Next Stop Paradise for some great investment opportunities with true white sand beaches. As we learned on our beach walks, Hawaii might boast of beaches, but none of them have sand this gorgeous and not nearly this shade of white.

Interestingly enough, we had two connections in this same fairly obscure area. Harrison and Caroline went to the University of Minnesota elementary and high schools together from the third grade on and have kept in touch all these years. She and her partner Ben just moved from frigid Minneapolis to Navarre, Florida, just a few miles from Sharon and Tom. This is the first January Caroline has ever spent not shoveling snow. Instead, she and Ben are hitting that white sand beach!

 

Art Out Of Destruction

Art Out Of Destruction

Leaving Florida on our way to New Orleans, we drove through the southern tip of our next state, Alabama, but found nothing exciting to report. (Our apologies to John Dirgo of Hawaii Holiday who is from Alabama…) But passing through Biloxi, Mississippi, we traveled right along the gulf and saw both interesting and sad remnants of Hurricane Katrina.

On the left side of the road was the Gulf of Mexico and gorgeous beaches, with no sign of oil remaining from the Deepwater Horizon spill. In the median strip were beautiful carved wood statues of birds, fish, and other objects. After seeing so many, we realized these pieces of art were carved out of tree trunks left standing after the hurricane ripped them apart. For a quick slide show, see Biloxi’s Katrina Sculptures.

The right side of the street had a few glorious old mansions as well as some obviously new construction, interspersed with many empty lots in between. Even now, you can see foundations or an odd fireplace on lots where, before Katrina, stately southern homes stood with views of the gulf.

 

New Orleans may have been crushed by Katrina, but after spending two nights right in the heart of the French Quarter, we can tell you at least that part of town is pretty much fully recovered and as wild and crazy as ever! Music blasts from club after club, and although we were there during a very quiet time of year, there were still lots of people out enjoying the Big Easy.

Blues legend B. B. King happened to be in town our first night and we lucked into two seats that had just been released that morning. At age 86, his voice is still strong, his guitar, Lucille, still sounds as sweet as ever, and the touring schedule with his band would tire both of us out! He proved to us that The Thrill Is NOT Gone yet!

 

The highlight of the following day was a three-hour bus tour of New Orleans led by a knowledgeable, talented, and hilarious guide who sounded straight out of the Bayou. John gave a comprehensive introduction to the history, areas, and fascinating architecture of New Orleans and the devastating aftermath of Katrina. While some sections of the city, including many of the beautiful homes in the Garden District, were not badly flooded and appear much as they always have, the Ninth Ward, which we all saw in the Katrina news reports, is still struggling although almost seven years have passed. We saw several new housing developments, such as Musicians’ Village targeted to the many musicians who make New Orleans home and Make It Right, spearheaded by Brad Pitt, that features a number of interesting energy-efficient designs from a competition. But there are vast areas of empty lots, as well as many abandoned but still standing homes, such as the one pictured above that stands next to a rebuilt home. Many former residents have clearly moved elsewhere, and the long-term future of this area is very uncertain.

 

We left NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) and took the LONG trek to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. We weren’t on horses but our butts felt like it! We only know a few people in Texas, but two sets of friends not only live near one another, but also both work with dogs! How odd is that? So Sharene was in doggie heaven visiting these old (or should we say “long-time”) friends of Harrison’s.

Margaret was a broadcast engineer Harrison recruited in the early 1980s, and after a 30-year career in broadcasting, she left to start her own business in portrait photography of dogs and their owners. She turned out to be just as talented a photographer and businessperson as she was an engineer and has won a number of awards to prove it. We saw lots of works from her impressive collection; check out some of her wonderful photos at Bryant Dog Photography.

We had a great lunch of Texas-style barbeque with Margaret and her partner Teri, and then off we went to visit Catherine, a friend of Harrison’s from his Seattle days. Catherine is the General Manager of a high-end doggie hotel called Woodland Park Pet Resort where some of the pet “rooms” even come with TVs (no kidding)! Catherine has three English Labs herself, and after spending some time with her, we can see why she is in the perfect job!

 

We’re on our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and since it was too far to drive in a day we decided to stop in Lubbock, Texas, for the night and visit the Buddy Holly Center. Lubbock-raised Holly was one of the pioneers of rock ’n’ roll who died much too young in the infamous plane crash of February 1959. Although his career was short, he and his group, the Crickets, had a major influence on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Bob Dylan, and other future rock stars. West Texas is the home of many influential American musicians including Bob Wills, Leadbelly, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings and others, but Holly definitely put Lubbock on the map!

 

Texas DemocratWe leave the south behind and, as our Texas friends would say, “We’re fixin’ to head west for a spell.” But on our way out, we were happy to see this bumper sticker proving there is at least one Democrat (besides the ones we know personally!) living in the Lone Star State.

Oh, just to give you a head’s up, this weekly update is Week 51 of 52, but we won’t really be finished next week. We began our “year of being homeless” on February 4, 2011, and we sent our first weekly update shortly after we arrived. That first update was at the beginning of Week 1, so by the end of Week 52 we will be on the 53rd update. (Got that?) So our year of weekly updates will go to 53, possibly 54 weeks. We’re coming around the bend as fast as we can, but we’re not there yet!

A hui hou and Yee Haw!
Sharene and Harrison

Where America Began and Georgia On Our Minds

Monticello

Week 50 of 52

Map Week 50

Our route from Virginia to Georgia

Our route back to the West Coast isn’t exactly the most direct, but it gives us new territory and people to visit and it’s a lot warmer than the northern U.S. this time of year. We headed south from the Washington, D.C. area this week and have been immersed in American history at several colonial sites and further south in coastal Georgia.

Our first stop was Charlottesville, Virginia, to see our friend Ronna and visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello (photo above). Sharene and Ronna worked together in the gold rush days of the dot-com world and even though neither “struck gold” there, they had a lot of fun. Ronna’s home is a 10-minute drive from Monticello so off we went to take a tour. One of the greatest fathers of our country, Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a true Renaissance man, credited with saying, “There isn’t a single blade of grass I’m not interested in.” His home, which is now a historic landmark estate, is filled with books, art, historical artifacts, and many amenities that were state-of-the-art in the 1700s. He is still referred to here as “Mr. Jefferson.”

From Charlottesville we headed to Williamsburg, site of the settlement that was the capital of colonial Virginia for much of the 18th century, where Dave and Dorothy welcomed us to their beautiful home. Dave and Harrison worked together at KING Radio in Seattle in the 1970s. If Ronna and Sharene thought they had fun at the dot-com, it was nothing compared to working at a rock ’n’ roll radio station in the 70s! Dave will be retiring at the end of this year after a long career with IBM, and Dorothy is working hard but not having as much fun as she would like at a small software company.

Dave took us on tours of Williamsburg as well as nearby Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States. It was fascinating to see the humble beginnings of our country, especially since we have seen so much of Europe’s history this past year. The biggest surprise was seeing how small the ships were that brought these first immigrants across the Atlantic, a reminder of how comfortable our lives have become.

 

After a long drive from Williamsburg, we landed in Savannah, Georgia, on the steps of the gorgeous home of Harrison’s cousin, Beth, and her husband, Bob. It’s true what they say about southern hospitality; we were given our own suite upstairs overlooking the golf course and personal tours of historic (and charming) Savannah and the surrounding areas, including Tybee Island.

A favorite book set in Savannah (so popular, people around here just call it “The Book”) is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Published in 1994, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for 216 weeks! Clint Eastwood made a movie of it in 1997 and shot much of the production in the Mercer-Williams House where the story took place. So our hosts took us to the house and rented the movie for us to watch!

Savannah is a beautiful city with 23 squares (small parks with statues and fountains) and amazing architecture in the historic district. We toured the Green-Meldrim House where General Sherman based himself after taking Savannah in 1864 during the Civil War. Sherman must also have been charmed by this gentle southern city since he was kind enough not to burn it down when he left, unlike Atlanta and others in the South.

Beth and Bob live on Skidaway Island surrounded by lagoons, wildlife, and yes, even alligators! We did see lots of birds and deer during our stay, but no scaly critters and that was just fine. Once again the weather gods were good to us with blue skies every day.

 

Tybee Beach

Savannah’s Beach on Tybee Island — it’s not Hawaii, but it’s beautiful all the same

From Savannah we drive south to the Florida panhandle, where we turn right and start heading west across the country.

We’re on the countdown now… we hope you’ve enjoyed our weekly updates but, if not, you only have a few more editions left, and so do we!

A hui hou and as they say here, see y’all later!

Sharene and Harrison

Back in the U.S.A.

Map Week 49

Week 49 of 52

Our Final Road Trip Begins!

If we had a home, you could call this the home stretch! On Wednesday morning we said fond farewells to our Swiss family and boarded a flight in Zurich bound for the U.S. When we arrived at Logan Airport in Boston Wednesday afternoon, our Honda Element was waiting for us courtesy of a friend of a friend who stored it for the past six months… thanks, Kate and Deborah!

So the Road Trip begins, the last phase of our “year of being homeless”! We came to the East Coast last spring via the northern route; we will spend our next few weeks making our way back to the West Coast via the southern route, visiting more family and friends along the way. One great lesson from this past year is that travel is much more rewarding when you can connect with family and friends old and new.

Fred and Brenda Family

Fred, Mark, Brenda, Tessa, and their senior cat

After a good night’s rest and a day of exercise and errands, we gave the Element its first road test with a drive to North Andover, Mass, to see our friends Fred and Brenda. Long-term readers may remember that Fred and Brenda visited us at our Boston apartment last June, and Brenda, who is Dutch by birth, also visited us a few weeks later at our first Amsterdam apartment when she came to visit her family. This time, we were entertained in their charming 150-year-old home by Fred and Brenda along with two of their three children and their 20-year-old cat! Of course, we mostly talked about how we love Amsterdam and hoped we could all spend lots of time together there when they retire.

 

With Frank and Ann

Wow, Frank and Ann are SO tall!     Just kidding!!!

We left Massachusetts and drove to Westchester County, north of New York City, to spend the night with our friends Ann and Frank (not to be confused with ANNE FRANK…). Ann is one of the three women Sharene travels with each year and one of her closest friends. It was great to see Ann in her own house, something Sharene rarely got to do when we lived over 5000 miles away in Hawaii.

With Mort and Lois

Admiring Mort’s art with Mort and Lois

From Westchester we took the Saw Mill and Henry Hudson Parkways into Upper Manhattan and crossed the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey on a record warm day with sunny blue skies. Yes, we picked the RIGHT year to travel! We were invited to lunch by a friend of Harrison’s late mother, Agatha. Lois worked for Agatha at the St. Paul (Minnesota) Public Library in the 1960s and they became lasting friends. Harrison hadn’t seen Lois in over 40 years so it was a nice reunion. Turns out her husband Mort is an talented artist! Mort grew up near the Atlantic City Boardwalk and many of his paintings depict scenes of that area; we loved seeing his work.

 

Rick and Satu

Rick and Satu

No, these two are not models, but Sharene’s nephew Rick and his wife Satu, who is from Finland. Rick is a pilot for Jet Blue and they live with their two children just west of Washington, D.C., in Virginia, our last stop for this week. We arrived on this unusually warm Saturday evening and were promptly invited for a glass of wine by their outdoor fireplace. Imagine sitting outside in front of a fireplace under clear skies and a full moon in January on the East Coast!

Life is good and our first few days back have been clear sailing and a wonderful start to our month on American roads. We’re still getting used to the U.S. again after six months in Europe, but right now it feels just fine.

Hope everyone’s first week of 2012 has been a good start as well!

For Week 49, a hui hou!

Sharene and Harrison

Happy New Year!

Alps

Week 48 of 52

Today is January 1, 2012.

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar (Dutch) Šastný Nový Rok (Czech) Heureuse nouvelle année (French) Glückliches neues Jahr (German) Buon anno (Italian) and Guete Rutsch (which in Swiss German translates to “have a good slide”); they are all meant to convey good wishes for 2012 and are in the languages of the places we visited in 2011.

Our Swiss friends and family have treated us to so many wonderful times during the holidays: dinners out, a Christmas concert where our dear friend Janice played viola, an amazing walk near Maxine and Maya’s home in the shadows of the snow-covered Alps (pictured on top), and more than one dinner party at Sarah’s beautiful home. Once again, we realize how fortunate we are because of the people in our lives; it’s what has made this past year truly magical.

 

 

We both know what an extraordinary 2011 we had as we round the corner to 2012 and the last month of our year away. For today, January 1, 2012, we send this old Irish toast to all our friends near and far:

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.

Wishing each and every one of you a magical 2012!

A hui hou and hau‘oli makahiki hou! (Hawaiian!)

Sharene and Harrison

Frohe Weihnachten from Switzerland

Christmas Morning

Week 47 of 52

After leaving the sunny coast of Italy, we hopped on our last Eurailpass train in Florence and headed north over the fantastic snow-covered Alps to Zurich, where Sarah welcomed us home. Here we are with our hanai (adopted) Swiss family before sitting down to our Christmas Day brunch. To Harrison’s left are Hallie, Amelia, Sarah, Sharene, Isabel, and Amelia’s husband, Phil.

You could call this the “BEFORE” photo: before we opened up presents and got a lot more silly and comfortable. Below, a couple of “AFTER” brunch photos!

 

We have been celebrating the holidays since we left Amsterdam at the end of November. The photos below show just a few of the incredible light displays we saw as we traveled through Frankfurt, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and Tuscany. Europe really knows how to show off its cities, big and small, during the holidays with sparkling lights and Christmas markets everywhere.

 

Holiday Collage

 

We sincerely hope your holidays have had bright lights with friends and family wherever you are celebrating these special days.

A hui hou and Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Frohe Weihnachten, Veselé Vánoce,

Sharene and Harrison

Buon Natale!

Tellaro

Week 46 of 52

Porto Venere

Porto Venere, Liguria, Italy — truly a picture postcard town!

After 45 weeks of travel, we weren’t sure Italy could really be as picturesque as everyone told us. After all, we came from Hawaii, spent time gazing out at Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, hit many scenic highlights across Canada and the northern U.S., landed in perfect Switzerland where we were surrounded by Alps, lived in scenic Amsterdam, and were amazed by monumental Prague.

However, after touring the Italian countryside for the past few days, we have to agree, Italy is spectacular! Florence and Tuscany didn’t disappoint us (more on them below), but on our final day we looked at our map and decided to drive just outside Tuscany into the region of Liguria, where we discovered some amazing Mediterranean coastal towns including Tellaro at the top of the page and Porto Venere at right. We hadn’t seen the sea since last June and forgot how much we love that combination of ocean and hills. We were also very lucky to have a beautiful sunny day with clear skies (on December 19!) to enjoy these special places.

Seeing an ocean wasn’t the only thing we hadn’t done in six months. We actually rented a car… the first time we have driven since June 4th! Actually, Sharene drove because Harrison navigates, and getting out of a big, old city with narrow streets like Florence and avoiding crazy Italian drivers is no easy task. But once we were out, we had a great time exploring the smaller villages of Italy. We love the big cities and traveling by train, but when you have a car you can really have fun on the back roads and discover out-of-the-way places.

 

Our time in Tuscany began in Florence, its capital and the birthplace of the Renaissance. The place is nirvana for lovers of Renaissance art and architecture, but after seeing so much of that in our travels over the past six months we suffered a bit from art and architecture overload and limited ourselves to a few of the most famous buildings and art collections. Perhaps the most famous sculpture of all time is Michelangelo’s David, and it’s so popular that Florence has three! The original, created between 1501 and 1504, stood in the public square Palazzo della Signoria but was moved in 1873 to the Accademia Gallery where it’s now more secure and out of the weather. The original location now has a replica, and there is a copper replica in Michelangelo Square overlooking the Florence skyline.

 

After renting the car, our first night was in charming Cortona, a old city built around the 13th century. The fantastic B&B we found was built MUCH later… in the 15th century! Casa Chilenne was a wonderful experience and Jeannette Wong, the innkeeper, is originally from San Francisco! Her hospitality reminded us that B&Bs really can be a much richer experience than a hotel; we highly recommend her inn and the town.

The upper two photos above were typical scenes we came across as we drove through Tuscany. Rows of grapes and olive trees everywhere — this vast area makes Napa Valley look like a modest roadside stop — guarded by ancient walled villages on the hilltops.

The lower two photos are of the Torre Pendente, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and of course no trip would be complete without this popular photo op!

 

Lit TreeEven though we had lots of sunshine and clear skies for our visit to Italy, everywhere we went we knew it was Christmas! Every little town and village has lights and trees decorating the streets, especially in the walled villages with town squares. Very beautiful to see but they simply cannot be captured by photos.

We thought this tree was especially festive, and since our next newsletter won’t be until Christmas Day, we will take the time here to wish each of you a magical and peaceful holiday week, which we hope you can spend with loved ones.

We cherish every one of our friends and extended family and it’s been an honor to share our journey this year with you.

A hui hou and Buon Natale (Merry Christmas),

Sharene and Harrison

Buongiorno!

Venice Gondolier

Week 45 of 52

Many years ago when we owned Bed & Breakfast International, we remember a telephone conversation (no Internet back then!) with European guests who were coming to visit San Francisco. We proudly told them we had a charming turn-of-the-century Victorian available, to which they replied, “Lovely! Which century?”

Well, now we truly understand that they weren’t kidding. We have been in three Italian cities this past week, and they aren’t just old, they are ancient cities with ruins, buildings, artwork and sculptures dating back thousands of years. It’s mindboggling to see such magnificent and often gigantic structures built by master craftsmen. Then, there is the art inside! Paintings, marble and granite sculptures, and fantastic painted ceilings. And all created to hold up over centuries… a far cry from the “throwaway” culture we live in today.

There’s Nothing Like VENICE

Thin Venice Blonde

Sunny day, picturesque canal, beautiful blonde… just your typical Venice scene!

The roads are waterways, the streets are alleyways, the cars are boats and gondolas, and the buses are boats called vaporettos that pull up to the dock to take commuters, locals, and visitors where they need to go.

Our hotel, Hotel Al Duca di Venezia, was fantastic and we highly recommend it! We took a short walk from the hotel our first night to dinner at a small, family-owned Italian (what else?) restaurant. Watching the people who worked there and locals who came in was like watching a scene out of the movie The Godfather. Attention all casting agents: just have a cappuccino here and you will have all the characters you need for your next project! Another thing about restaurants here, if you don’t order vino with your meal, they look at you suspiciously…

Of course we’ve seen Venice many times in movies, but nothing can compare to the real thing. The smartly dressed gondoliers like the one at the top of the page really do stand up and maneuver these boats by oar-power alone along canals large and small.

How they built this city not on but in the water, we can’t figure. Sure, we read about how they did it, but we are still amazed it hasn’t completely disintegrated after hundreds of years in salt water. We had a pool that needed to be replastered after only 10 years of fresh water!

TODI – Built by Hercules???

Todi View

View from our room at the San Lorenzo Tre

So, how’s THAT for old? According to recorded legend, Todi was first built by Hercules way back in 1330 BC. We think our hotel was built not long after that! But we loved it, and if you ever get to Todi and want something different from a Holiday Inn (and rated #1 by TripAdvisor) check out the Residenza D’Epoca San Lorenzo Tre. The charming town of Todi is set way up on a hill overlooking one of the valleys in Umbria. It was built as a medieval fortress complete with several magnificent cathedrals and a busy town square.

Keith and Robin were our main reasons for a diversion to Todi. They also left Hawaii about the same time we did but decided to travel for two years, mainly in Europe. A tiny rural Umbrian village near Todi has been their home for the last few months, but they are off this week for sunnier weather in Spain. We have been following each other’s adventures along the way so it was fun to meet in person. And we happened to pick the evening of Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception), a major Italian holiday, when they lit the huge Christmas tree in the Todi town square!

We had a very nice dinner with Keith, Robin, and Robin’s mother who was visiting, and we toasted our mutual friend, Luigi, who introduced us. Those of you who have been following our travels since the beginning might remember that Luigi was our friend from Hilo who owned our favorite restaurant there. He passed away suddenly and much too soon last February just after we left the Big Island. The four of us all had hoped he would come visit while we were on our mutual trips. Aloha and arrivederci, Luigi.

ROMA!! Two and A Half Thousand Years of History!

Rome is the 11th-most-visited city in the world, 3rd-most-visited in the European Union, and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy. We cannot even begin to imagine the crowds in the summer, because we think all 4.2-million visitors are here this week!

When you are a city with the Vatican, the Colosseum, fountains (including the famous Trevi Fountain above) and a history no others can beat, you expect it to be crowded. But even for us — two big city people — it’s just a bit too much. However, being here and seeing these places that were created so long ago is humbling and we know of no other place on our planet to see art displayed as it is here in Rome. We also have had fun listening to groups of 3-4 Italians in animated rapid-fire discussions — all talking at the same time!

We’ve had a great week in Italy. We always manage to meet nice people, we ate some good Italian food, and we had mostly blue skies and temps in the 60s (that’s above 15 C) in early December; guess that’s another reason people LOVE Italy! We still have more to see in Rome and then it’s on to Florence and Tuscany.

Until Week 46,

A hui hou, ciao, and arrivederci!

Sharene and Harrison

One Week—Three Countries—All Amazing!

Prague Castle at Night

Week 44 of 52

Weiden, Germany

When we left Berlin last week, we headed south on the train into Bavaria to spend one night visiting some friends who relocated to Germany from the Big Island two years ago. Manu is originally from Germany, but this has been a new, exciting experience for Jeff. Manu just opened a brand new real estate office in the center of this charming old city and Jeff is hard at work learning fluent German. Too bad we don’t want to live in a sweet German city of about 45,000 people (with the feel of a village); if we did, we would be as captivated by Weiden as they have been. It was great to see them looking so happy, healthy, and excited about their future. When we asked Jeff if he ever missed the Big Island, he replied that the only thing he missed was his daughter; other than that, he is quite happy in Europe, “thank you very much!”

Prague, Czech Republic

We had heard for years about the picturesque and amazing city of Prague… often ranked in the top five most beautiful cities worldwide. Still, after all we’ve seen this year and on previous European trips, we weren’t prepared to be so impressed by this incredible place with its castles, palaces, and other historic architecture as well as all its cultural and entertainment attractions. (Now we know the inspiration for Disneyland’s “Magic Kingdom” — the photo of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral at the top of the page is just one example.) Prague was almost overwhelming with so much to see, and of course being here during the holidays, we had the added beauty of Christmas lights, Christmas markets, and Christmas music everywhere.

For those we can convince to put Prague in their future travel plans, we highly recommend our hotel, the Hotel Pinot, one of those sweet old European hotels that is walking distance to Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and into the other old parts of the city. Thanks to our friends Tony and Hanne for the recommendation!

Beethoven Score

One of Beethoven’s original scores, on display at the Lobkowicz Palace Museum

We spent one afternoon at the Lobkowicz Palace, a privately owned building in the Prague Castle complex. The Palace, along with other large properties throughout the Czech Republic, is owned by the Lobkowicz family, who tell visitors to this museum a fascinating real-life tale about the six-hundred-year history of the Lobkowiczes, including the dramatic story of how the family lost everything twice and got it back — twice. The properties and contents are now managed by 50-year-old William Lobkowicz, who was born and raised in Boston. In 1989, he moved to Prague to begin reclaiming his family properties that were taken from them first by the Nazis, then by the communists. It’s an amazing history. Some of their most valuable and prized treasures are original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven and Mozart, including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies and Mozart’s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah, on display in the museum. Seeing these originals with the composers’ own handwriting took Harrison’s breath away!

Charles Bridge Vendor

Music vendor on the Charles Bridge

Prague is a city for walking and we were so fortunate to have several days of blue skies… it was cold but clear. The historic Charles Bridge connects both sides of the city and walking across the river is magical. The bridge has towers at both ends and many vendors (including the man with the monkey!) to entertain you as you stroll across and admire the views in every direction. As usual, we took in some interesting events, heard some great music, and met some wonderful people during our time here — thanks, Carolina, for a lovely walk and more!

Our advice: Put this one on your list of places to visit! Five days wasn’t nearly enough time to see it all so we know we’ll be back.

However, unlike many of the beautiful places we have visited this year, Prague is one where we didn’t immediately say, “We could live here!” That’s because we are chagrined to admit that we would never be able to learn the Czech language… it’s pretty to listen to but impossible in every other way! We would like to say “thanks for a great time” in Czech, but this is how you would say it:

Děkuji Vám za skvělou návštěvu!

And we thought humuhumunukunukuapuaa was a mouthful!

Vienna, Austria

We ended our week in Vienna, another city on architectural steroids. We have been to Vienna before so this time only came for the weekend and could not do it justice, but we jammed as much as we could into our one full day here.

We went to a Christmas concert Saturday evening at St. Anna’s Church and today we went to three museums and ferreted out all the Klimt artwork we could find. At two of the museums with unbelievable collections of art work (the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Belvedere Palace), we couldn’t decide which was more magnificent, the art or the buildings!

Seems there is one surprise after another for us at every stop. We have another interesting week ahead of us in three very different places, but only one country… to give you a hint, we will leave you with this:

Ciao, and a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison

Have Eurail Passes… Will Travel

With Hallie and Madlaina

 

Week 43 of 52

We’re down to two medium-size suitcases and a carry-on for the rest of our time here in Europe. Packing clothing for a year-long adventure in all different seasons, plus our large laptops and what we need to manage our properties and pay bills, was no easy task. But we have twisted and turned where necessary, and at this point we have personal belongings in Hawaii, Seattle, Switzerland and Amsterdam! Now we only have what we can carry and, although this is the season for Christmas markets throughout Germany (and other parts of Europe), we have NO room to buy anything!

Paul Franziska Inge-Lore

Paul, Franziska and Inge-Lore

The first stop on our multi-country trip was Oberursel, Germany, just outside Frankfurt. There we visited relatives of our dear friends Rick and Maggie from Gig Harbor, Washington. We met them a number of years ago when they, along with Rick and Maggie, were guests at our home in Hawaii. Now here we are, halfway around the world, being wined and dined in their beautiful home.

Inge-Lore and Paul, their dazzling daughter Franziska, and her very British boyfriend Michael were wonderful hosts. They served us a traditional German meal on an elegantly set table complete with a perfect autumn desert made from chestnuts! A wonderful warm welcome on the first night of our “European tour.”

BERLIN

Hallie and Madlaina

Hallie and Madlaina

We arrived at Berlin’s main railway station Tuesday evening, and who was there to surprise us with a big smile and arms spread in a TA-DA! move but Hallie, one of our lovely and talented “adopted daughters” from Switzerland! We knew she was at a conference in Berlin but hadn’t expected to see her until Friday… wow, were we surprised!

We met Hallie’s friend Madlaina and the four of us went to see the holiday lights lining the Kurfurstendamm (the Champs-Elysees of Berlin). Our photos don’t capture the millions of lights on the trees and around the buildings or the hundreds of kiosks that make up the Christmas markets. Street musicians play holiday songs and where there aren’t street musicians there are speakers, so the music is everywhere. Walking along the Ku’damm is a festive and fun way to catch the spirit of the season.

 

On the opposite side of “festive” is the tragic (and not-so-long-ago) history of Berlin: World War II, the division of Berlin, and the Wall. We took walking and bus tours and were reminded once again (as we have been so often on this trip to Europe) of the Holocaust and its aftermath. You see evidence of all those terrible events everywhere, including the photos above showing a remnant of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin for almost 30 years and the Stolperstein (“stumbling stone”) sidewalk memorials to the individuals who were put into Nazi prisons and death camps. Berlin along with Germany overall seems to be facing its awful past by being open about the mistakes and taking many tangible and intangible actions to keep from making them again.

Seventy percent of Berlin was destroyed in the war, so vast areas (primarily in the former East Berlin) are still under reconstruction and most buildings are newer, but from time to time you do see some of the beautiful architecture of the 18th and 19th century.

 

Berlin is a world-class city with over three million people and lots to see and do. We visited one of the main Berlin landmarks, the Fernsehturm TV tower, which at 368 meters or 1207 feet is the tallest structure in Germany and the tallest public building in all of Europe. Harrison tried to be duly impressed, but after years of working on TV and radio towers across the U.S. of up to 2000 feet as well as the broadcasting facilities on the World Trade Center and Empire State Building in New York City and the Sears Tower and John Hancock Building in Chicago, he found one area on this trip where Europe literally came up short.

Of course, we try to enjoy as much local culture and entertainment as possible, so one evening we decided to have the ultimate German experience: a dinner show performance by the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain! All seriousness aside, they pronounced it “you-kuh-lay-lee” rather than the correct “oo-koo-lay-lay”, and they weren’t ukulele masters like our fave Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii, but they were very talented and a lot of fun.

Keeping with the (non) German theme, Sharene had a fantastic drei-Stunden (three-hour) experience at a Turkish Hamam… she went in not knowing what to expect, and came out a Hamam convert! Basically, you go into this large warm marble room and get a body wash and massage that leaves you limp as a wet German spaetzle!

Between Hallie, the Hamam, the history, and the Christmas lights, Berlin has been a great visit.

Even though Europe doesn’t celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday, we continued our several-decade-long Thanksgiving tradition in this Week 43 of our “year-of-being-homeless” by listening to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, a memorable 1960s song about a Thanksgiving Day adventure. We hope everyone in the U.S. was able to give thanks in their own way.

A hui hou,
Sharene and Harrison

Aloha, Mahalo, Dank U Wel, Tot Ziens

Amsterdam People

Week 42 of 52

Our four month stay in Amsterdam has been one of the most fun, interesting, and memorable times of our lives with many adventures and life-changing moments. As you know from our weekly updates, Amsterdam is the most welcoming city we have ever seen, alive with beauty and culture, with something to do or somewhere to go each and every day. We have felt privileged to be a part of it.

But beyond canals, fabulous architecture, world-class museums, and music and events, the true spirit of any place and adventure is created and flourishes because of people and relationships. Every person in the photo collage contributed to making Amsterdam so special for us. We made many new friends and many of our dearest friends came to visit. Each encounter was its own amazing experience.

Top row: Frank, Sarah, Hanneke, Stephi, Phil, Amelia;
Row 2: Karin, Hallie, Isabel, Mandy, Cathy;
Row 3: Marco, Desiree, Kathy, Nico, Annemiki;
Row 4: Janice, Walter, Michael, Peter, Loes;
Row 5: Tanja, Richard, Lyn, Connie, Sape;
Row 6: Manouk, Tony, Mary Lou, Ben, Sheryl;
Bottom row: Arthur, Lance, Erica, Joost, Xaviera.

We thank each of our friends for making the effort to visit us and for all the good laughs, deep conversations, and fun excursions along the way. And to our new friends in Amsterdam: you have taught us what it’s like to live in one of the world’s greatest cities where people are living happy, full lives. We promise to stay in touch and we will be back as soon as we can!

 

Our Friend FrankOf all our friends, old and new, surely the single most important person in making this magical trip come to pass so beautifully is Frank. From the day we met two years ago, he has been here for us every step of the way, always with the goal of making sure our Amsterdam experience is positive, enjoyable and drama-free. (Frank is also an Amsterdam historian so we had a personal tour guide by our side all the time!) We have no words to express our appreciation for all Frank has done for us. He may be in Amsterdam, but he has the Aloha Spirit as much as anyone we know in Hawaii.

Our humble and heartfelt thank you, dear Frank.

 

So we really are leaving Amsterdam! We have a Eurailpass good for the next month so we’ll become real travelers living out of a suitcase. While we are sad to leave this amazing place, we’re excited about exploring new countries, cities and places in the last couple of months of our “year of being homeless.”

Again, thank you to everyone above… and for everyone following our weekly update, it’s been a grand time!!

Have a great week and a hui hou!
Sharene and Harrison